There comes a time in the life of every homesteader when you look at your breakfast plate and you see the homegrown eggs, the garden fresh vegetables, maybe the homegrown bacon or sausage, and you start to wonder what life would be like if you had a glass of raw milk from your own cow or goat to chase it down. And therein lies the ultimate question: Cows vs Goats: What's better and what's more profitable? How you answer this question will help you choose which dairy animal is the right for your homestead. Even if your heart is set on having a cow, it may not be a good fit for your situation and it would be unfair to her for you to figure that out the hard way.
Because goats prefer to browse (eat brush or vines) rather than graze grasses, they are complementary grazing in combination with cattle or horses. Using more than one species to graze an area is called "multispecies grazing," and in nature it maintains species balance and ecological stability in an area. Modern farming practices have tended to limit the kinds of animals on a specific piece of land, and this encourages less useful plants to dominate an area. For example, on a pasture used by cattle alone, shrubs and vines may increase, because cattle do not graze those plants consistently. Adding goats to the pasture will result in more meat being produced on that land, because the goats and cattle will be turning different forages into meat.
Another benefit of goats grazing plants that cattle won't is that they prevent weeds and brush from taking over an area. The brush that a goat eats is converted into money by way of meat. Because it won't be necessary to use chemicals or other means to control the brushy plants, the goats will also save you money. Besides the financial benefits, goats are a much safer tool to use on weeds. Many people develop sensitivity to chemicals after years of exposure; using goats to accomplish the goal is much better for the environment and those living in the area.
The choice between cows and goats is a difficult one, and you will need to consider a number of key factors that can radically influence the outcome of the dairy farm. Lets look at 12 factors that will help you determine what's better and what's more profitable, raising cows or raising goats.
This is pretty important. All of the other considerations don’t matter if you don’t like the flavour of the milk coming in from your barnyard. Why go through the hassle if you won’t drink it? Which flavor of milk do you prefer? Don’t expect raw cow’s milk to taste the same as what you’re used to from the store. Another thing that can cause bad-tasting goat milk is keeping bucks together with the does, especially if she’s in heat. I’ve seen more than one buck peeing on a doe between breedings and rubbing his head on her udder and the rest of her body. So, always make sure to milk those does last, and their milk should not be mixed into the rest of the milk.
2. LOW COST (TO BUY AND RAISE).
Goats are one of the cheapest livestock enterprises to start-up, because they do not require much capital to purchase or feed. Also, as stated above, facilities are cheaper than for cattle.
Dairy goats are generally much cheaper to purchase than a milk cow. Goat price tags vary greatly, but expect to pay anywhere from US$50 to US$300 for a starter goat – depending on the age, breed, and whether or not it is registered. Goat dairy farms have been on the rise in the United States and many other parts of the world during the past few years. So much so that in just 10 years, the demand for goat milk and goat dairy products has increased by 60%.
If you ever have any challenging health situations or have a calf that is not quite so friendly, you will need things like a squeeze chute, which are big and expensive. Most cows need a head gate for milking, which is also pretty expensive. Even with all the right equipment, some cows don't like to be milked, and they can kick sideways and break a bone if they hit you just right, but when raising goats, it's totally a different story. It's not likely going to cost you a fortune to treat sick goats and you won't need special equipment to milk goats.
It’s kind of obvious, but a couple of goats will take a whole lot less pasture space, and less space in your pens or barns. Obviously a cow eats a lot more than a goat, so if you don’t have at least a few acres where a cow can graze, you will spend a small fortune on hay. However, if you are milking a cow, they need alfalfa or lucerne for best production, so you will still need to buy some alfalfa or lucerne to supplement their pasture diet.
4. INTIMIDATION FACTOR.
Because they are so much smaller, goats are a better choice if you’ve never worked around large animals before. If the largest pet you’ve had thus far is a goldfish, sitting underneath a 1200-pound cow for the first time so you can grab a hold of its udder can be a bit nerve-wracking. Goats are an attractive enterprise for many who may be intimidated by larger animals. Goats are small and safer to work around than cattle, and because of their size and ease of handling, there is no need for expensive working facilities or head gates, squeeze chutes, and other equipment essential in cattle ranching.
5. HOW MUCH MILK DO YOU NEED?
Depending on the breed, goats will probably give you just enough milk to drink and a bit more to play with. Cows, on the other hand will most likely give you a surplus of milk you need to manage. It’s a good problem that will turn into butter, yogurt, and cheese or can be used to supplement the feed bill by giving it to some of the other livestock on your farm. Cows produce large quantities of milk, one single animal yielding an average of 7.5 gallons per day or 28.4 litres per day.
They should have a baby in order to produce milk. As long as you milk them, they’ll produce milk. You can milk a cow for two years before she’s dried up without having another baby.
Selling milk, however, can be difficult in some parts of the world, especially in developed countries because of the rules and regulations governing dairy production in different states and nations. A small-scale dairy is not profitable at all in most countries where the sale of raw milk is prohibited.
6. DO YOU WANT CREAM?
Goat milk is naturally homogenized which means that the fat globules are smaller and don’t rise to the top of the jar to form a cream line. Which, in turn, means if part of the attraction in having a dairy animal for you is using cream to make butter, a goat might not be the best fit.
However, this fact is good for folks who are lactose intolerant. While it’s not the cream itself that makes the milk more digestible, it’s the size of those smaller fat globules that do. If you have problems digesting cow’s milk, drinking goat’s milk may solve your belly troubles.
If you want to make butter, you need to be able to separate the cream. That means you can make butter with both types of milk. However, goat milk is lower in beta carotene than cow milk, and that’s what gives butter the yellow color. If you make butter with goat milk, it will be white. It also doesn’t have that flavor that we all identify as buttery. It’s good, but it doesn’t taste like butter.
7. BREEDING HABITS OF GOATS AND COWS.
Breeding is a lot easier with goats. The gestation period for cows tends to be around 280 days, and if the cow is carrying a bull calf then the gestation period is even longer. The gestation period of goats is only around 150 days, and they tend to birth 2-3 babies. This means you are able to stay “in milk” for most of the year when you have a goat. Both cows and goats can give birth around once a year, cows birth one calf, and the goats tend to give birth to 2-3 babies. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to get cows to make a calf the next year if it already gave birth, this would mean that in 30-40 days after giving birth it should get pregnant, which is highly unlikely. Therefore, goats are likely to multiply much faster than cattle. If bigger numbers are anything of attraction to you then goats may be something to seriously consider.
8. GOATS ARE EASY & EAT LESS.
It is much easier manage goats diet, considering they can eat just about anything and do well. A goat that eats too much, though, can get bloat. Bloat, when caught early enough, is easy to cure without worrying about hiring a vet. A little baking soda is generally enough to solve the problem. Dairy cows are prone to a variety of illnesses, as well, but the fix tends to be very expensive and often requires an experienced vet.
9. GOATS ARE LIKE PETS.
Goats tend to quickly become like dogs, they become pets. They will learn your voice, and most of them will come when you call. They are very friendly and you will soon discover they are playful, loving creatures. Watching baby goats, called young kids, run and play is entertaining. You won’t see cows jumping, running and acting silly.
It can be almost impossible to find a trained milk cow to purchase, but training a goat is not as difficult or as potentially dangerous for the novice as training a cow that has never been milked. When venturing into cattle farming for the first time, never make a huge blunder of purchasing dairy cows that have never been handled before. Getting a halter on them or even touching them may be impossible, and in some cases there will be no way you are going to milk these cows. You will probably eventually give up on the cows and just sell them.
With a goat, the process isn’t nearly as terrifying, and you will be able to have better control of a cranky goat than you would with an irritated cow. There is less fear of being hurt or trampled by a goat.
10. BULLS VS BUCKS.
This comparison would not be complete without talking about bulls and bucks. If you want milk, the cow or the doe has to get pregnant and give birth, which means you either need a male of the species or you need to do artificial insemination.
Bucks can be stinky, but bulls can kill you. I know a woman who was killed by a bull, and I’ve known vets who told me they’ve had colleagues killed by bulls. Someone once said to me that testosterone is a dangerous drug, and I have to agree. All male animals have plenty of testosterone flowing through their veins, and the bigger they are, the more testosterone there is, and the more dangerous they are. We’ve never kept a bull more than a couple of years because they get too hormonal and scary by then.
If you do buy or borrow a bull, don’t get one that was bottle-fed, because according to a prominent American scientist and animal behaviourist named Dr Temple Grandin, they are the most likely to kill someone since they think of humans as part of their family and try to communicate with you as if you were one of them.
11. DISPOSING DEAD LIVESTOCK.
Far too often people who are new to homesteading do not think about what would they do if an animal dies, although they tend to die from time to time, especially while giving birth. Smaller animals like a goat can be made compost from it fairly easily. On the other hand, if a cow dies, you will need some heavy equipment to move it to the compost pile. Things get even more complicated during the wintertime when the ground is frozen.
When it comes to making a profit, goats are a lot more profitable than cows. Goats are cheaper to buy, they tend to eat a lot less food, need a lot less space, and are a lot easier to transport. Although the milk yield of cows tends to be around 3 times higher than the milk yield of an average goat, but goat milk and dairy products tend to be more expensive.
If you have been raising cows your entire life then you would probably say that the cows make more profit, and if you would have raised goats your entire life you would have said that goats are definitely the best. The truth is somewhere between, in some areas raising goats has become extremely popular, on the other hand, the demand for cow’s milk is always there no matter in what corner of the world you live.
The biggest limiting factor on how much profit either goats or cows can generate is how many of them you can actually raise. Generally speaking, most homesteads are not big enough to raise a lot of cows or goats, so they will most likely raise a couple of goats and cows as well if they have the available space.
I prefer raising goats for milk because they are smaller than cows, eat less, poop less, cost less to buy and cheaper to feed well, goats are easier to handle (whether alive or dead), and produce a more manageable amount of milk and meat for personal consumption. But if you have a large family and need a few gallons of milk per day, and you want to make cheese, yogurt and ice cream, then a cow may be a better choice.
Cow’s milk is cheap, but cows produce a lot of it. To obtain a decent profit, you will need more cows which means more space and more workforce. For the cow’s milk to have more value, you should have pastures so they can graze freely. This will give you high-quality milk that sells for more money than the classic one.
Ideally, your pastures should be green more than 6 months a year because otherwise, your cows will be eating hay, which does not result in the same valuable milk.
Marketing cow’s milk might be difficult too. There are many players on the market, and most of them have signed with large traders. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to establish yourself on the cow’s milk market. It just means that it requires hard work and a big investment in marketing strategies that work.
In contrast, goats seem like they are much easier to manage, but they produce less milk. With just a fraction of the milk a cow produces, how could you make any profit? The trick with goats is that you need to go into marketing your business even before buying a single goat.
There is a high demand for goat dairy, and there are many ways through which you can monetize it. The milk a goat produces in a single day can be equal in value to the milk a cow produces in a single day.
If the goat is farmed in an organic farm, its value can go even higher. The overall cost of raising goats is definitely lower than raising cows, and it’s easier to start a business, especially if it will be a small one.
However, goat dairy farms are a relatively new territory in the United States and in some parts of the world goat dairy farms are still unheard of and no matter what the numbers say, there is no telling what will happen in the future. So, from this perspective, there is a risk, and you will have to consider it.