It is common practice to allow dairy goats some time to rest between lactation and falling pregnant. The rest time the goats have helps them improve their body condition, gain some weight, and prepare for the next milking season. But how do you dry up a dairy goat that keeps producing milk?
The most common method for drying dairy goats is the "abrupt" method. First, the dairy goats' diet is changed to be less nutrient-rich. Then, the goats are milked a last time and not again until their next lactation cycle. During the drying-up process, the goats must be checked for mastitis.
Other ways that goats dry up include the natural method and the slower method. The method chosen will depend on the farm's practices and the goats being dried up. Read on to discover why you should dry a dairy goat, procedures, and precautions.
Why Should You Dry Up A Dairy Goat?
As a dairy farmer, you know that happy and healthy goats will produce better-quality milk. Part of dairy goat husbandry includes a dry time for a dairy goat. When a doe is lactating, her body believes she is nourishing a kid, which might deprive her body of nutrients if she is not well-nourished.
Allowing does a dry time gives them the opportunity to recuperate their body condition before the next birthing and lactating season begins. It also allows the mammary tissue in the udders to regenerate.
The downtime during a dry period is also the perfect opportunity to check the herd's health. For example, the vet can do fecal and blood tests on the goats to ensure everyone is in good health. If necessary, those who need supplements can receive the treatment during this time.
Ideally, a doe needs six to eight dry weeks (without milk production) before breeding again. This is because her body needs a rest from milking before she starts growing kids. Dairy goats should not have dry periods of more than eight weeks as they might gain too much weight and can have difficulty kidding.
Finally, drying up a dairy goat can help improve milk production in the future. By not allowing a dry-off time, the goat might produce less milk in the future. Additionally, the kids born to unrested goats might be smaller, and the colostrum the goat produces will have fewer immunoglobulins.
When To Start Drying Up A Dairy Goat
Dairy farmers employ different methods for drying up dairy goats. Some choose to dry their does up a month before breeding, while others prefer to wait until a month before kidding. Whatever time frame the farmer chooses, drying up dairy does should be deliberate to minimize physical stress on the doe.
Many commercial dairy goat farms have a planned lactation period of about 305 days . Therefore, the drying-off process should start at least two to three weeks before the dry-off time. Ideally, milk secretion should stop within three days of the last milking.
Different Methods Of Drying Up A Dairy Goat
The time it takes for a doe to dry will depend on the doe and the method you use. Some does that are heavy milkers take longer to dry up. Next are three ways to dry up your dairy goat.
The Natural Method
Farmers usually remove newborn kids born to dairy goats to maximize milk production. However, some farmers will leave kids with their mothers to be weaned naturally.
If a kid is left with its mother, the doe will usually wean it naturally at about 6 months. This is because, by six months, the kid's digestive tract has matured and contains microbes for consuming an adult diet. Additionally, the kid has teeth, a strong motivator for weaning.
If a farmer has left the kid with the dam for six months, it is a good time to wean the kid and dry the doe abruptly. Doing so will allow the dam to recover some body condition before falling pregnant and lactating again.
The "Cold Turkey" Method
The abrupt or "cold turkey" method of drying a goat is the most commonly used and recommended. However, this method requires the farmer to significantly change the goats' diet two weeks before the cessation of milking is planned .
The dietary switch is meant to do the following:
- Reduce the energy content of the diet by feeding high-fiber feed.
- The high fiber will increase the feeling of satiety but minimize the nutrients in the diet.
- The goat should start producing less milk, making the drying-up process more straightforward and safer.
- The diet can mean eliminating grain and feeding grass hay instead of alfalfa.
- Heavy milkers that take longer to dry up should be fed a simple, low-calorie straw and water diet.
After two weeks on a low-energy, high-fiber diet, dairy goats' udders should be assessed. The assessment should include a mammary health check to see the level of milk production. If all is well, the goat should be milked one last time, either by its offspring or a human.
The goat will produce a bit more milk, but it's a full, unmilked udder that triggers the body's response to dry up. Despite the temptation to relieve some pressure on the udder, farmers should refrain from doing so, as it will trigger the goat to produce more milk. The milk in the goat's udders will eventually be resorbed into her body.
Do's And Don'ts Of The Cold Turkey Method
- Do check the goats' udders regularly for mastitis.
- Don't deprive the goats of water, as it is unethical. Instead, if you want to control water intake, let the does drink from a bucket three times throughout the day.
- Don't minimize the feed – only the quality of the feed. Goats eating low-calorie hay will want to eat until they feel full.
- Don't allow goats that are due to be dried up into lush pastures.
The Slower Method
The slower method of drying a goat involves "half-milking" the doe and gradually extending the times between milking. The lactating doe still gets the regular message to make more milk using this method. Still, the intensity of milk production gradually decreases. The idea is to introduce "back pressure" slowly, where the udders get the message to eventually stop producing milk.
Some dairy farmers or those with show goats prefer to use this method of drying up because it is more comfortable for the doe. Additionally, it lowers the risk of an udder stretching and becoming deformed.
The following example explains how to dry a goat using the slow method:
- Two weeks before drying off begins, reduce the grain portions.
- Take half the milk when milking (twice a day) for about two weeks.
- Then, for a week or two, milk the goats once a day.
- Then, half-milk them once a day for three to five days.
- Reduce the grain portions still.
- Milk every second day for a week or so.
- Finally, stop milking altogether.
- Check the udders regularly for lumps or mastitis.
A potential issue with the gradual drying-off method is that the goat is more prone to getting mastitis. If a goat's teats are open but she's not being milked as regularly, bacteria can enter the orifice and lead to an infection.
Additionally, goats will dry up at their own pace using the slow method. For example, using the slower method, first fresheners are likely to dry up much faster than heavy milkers.
Precautions To Take When Drying Up A Dairy Goat
Regardless of the drying-off method used, it is up to the goat farmers to monitor their goat's health during the dry-off time. The idea of dry-off is to give the goat a break and rejuvenate so she can continue producing milk. However, mishandled or unmonitored dry-offs of dairy goats could have severe or fatal consequences.
As mentioned, it is unethical to deprive goats of feed and water to speed up drying-off. Goats will look for sustenance elsewhere or fight over food if left hungry. In addition, they could chew on the wrong things or ingest toxic plants. Therefore, it is better to keep them feeling physically full while reducing their nutrient intake.
Mastitis In Dairy Goats
If a goat is prone to mastitis, it is better to milk her completely dry and sanitize her teat with alcohol. Her teats should be treated with antibiotic treatment and a commercial teat dip, and teat tape should be used if necessary. Signs of mastitis include the following:
- Abnormal milk production (including watery milk or milk with clumps, blood, a discharge, or a weird smell),
- Heat, pain, swelling, and redness of the affected mammary gland,
- Illness in the form of fever, low appetite, or depression, and
- Gangrenous mastitis will result in blue, cold skin.
Successfully drying up dairy goats requires planning and monitoring. Whichever method is used, it is common practice to reduce the quality of the goats' feed to something less nutrient-rich. Those managing the drying off should check the goats regularly for signs of illness or infection. Eventually, dairy does will stop producing milk, and it will give them time to regain their body condition.