By Matt Reese
There is no doubt about it. Baby goats are cute. They are also very trendy.
Baby goats have exploded in popularity in recent years for their charming antics and apparent appeal to certain demographics when they are wearing little goat onesies online. Videos attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers feature baby goats tormenting other livestock, jumping about on playground equipment, wearing bizarre articles of clothing, sharing living quarters with humans, and even eating waffles. And, goat yoga? Yup, it really exists.
National dairy goat interest is clearly being driven to some degree by the cute baby goat obsession, but legitimate markets for dairy goat products continue to grow on their own merits. Goat cheese is an increasingly popular foodie trend and can be found in upscale restaurants everywhere and the lower lactose milk from goats is gaining favor in the United States as well.
The newly released 2017 Census of Agriculture data recently quantified this increasing dairy goat popularity. From 2007 to 2017, dairy goat numbers increased a shocking 62% in the United States, by far the largest increase of any livestock sector. The next largest increase was with ducks, with an increase of just over 20%. Hogs, laying chickens, dairy cows, and broilers saw slight increases. Turkeys, beef cattle, sheep, and bison all had slight declines in that decade. Meat goat numbers were more than 20% down as were Angora goats, deer and horses. There were larger decreases for elk, ostriches and emus. Llama numbers declined the most dramatically in the nation with a more than 60% decrease in 10 years.
The dramatic dairy goat increase is no surprise to Robin Saum, who has raised dairy goats for many years on her family’s Fairfield County farm and is currently the immediate past president for the American Dairy Goat Association. Saum and her daughter, Hannah, currently raise some Saanen and Nigerian goats on their diversified family farm.
“There are way more goats here now than there ever were. The miniature goats are seeing a huge increase in animals. There is this big back-to-the-farm movement. People want to buy their food locally and know where it comes from.
A lot of people are purchasing those mini goats because many towns are allowing people to have some hens or some small dairy goats. Depending on the town, you can put three Nigerians in your backyard and the neighbors will never know they are there. People want them for their milk to drink or make cheese or whatever,” Saum said. “I have a couple Nigerians and they average about 5% to 7% butter fat. They don’t milk that much, but how much milk do you need for a family? They are the ideal family animal and they are easy to handle.”
In Ohio the number of dairy goats is also on the rise. USDA numbers for Ohio reported 10,674 dairy goats on 1,341 farms in 2012 and there were 13,937 dairy goats on 1,504 Ohio farms in 2017. Saum also said the increase in dairy goat popularity is very apparent at the national level with the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA).
“We now have over 3,000 adult ADGA members and 874 youth in Ohio. In 2008 we had 8,119 members nationally in ADGA. The 2017 numbers nationally were 14,347 and in 2018 it was 15,494. The youth membership was just over 4,000 each year, so we are up significantly,” she said. “At the ADGA we only see the registered animal numbers, but our numbers have increased exponentially every year. In 2008, we registered 34,583 animals nationally compared to 2018 when we registered 58,822. It is a big increase. We are glad we are computerized.”
ADGA currently maintains herd books for the Alpine, LaMancha, Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable, and Toggenburg breeds. With increased dairy goat popularity, ADGA’s programs, including linear appraisal, have also gained popularity.
“People in the organization value the milk testing and the linear appraisals we do,” Saum said. “They may not do it for all of their animals, but when they buy animals, they want animals they can prove will milk and be structurally correct.”
Similar to dairy cattle appraisals, ADGA’s linear appraisal program objectively evaluates individual and inheritable traits that affect structural and functional durability of dairy goats, allowing users of the program to take full advantage of the potential for genetic improvement through selective breeding. The appraisal program provides the framework for a uniform record system that can be used in making farm management decisions, marketing the animals for breed characteristics and “visualizing an animal by the numbers.” The system uses trained appraisers to evaluate 13 traits including stature, udder depth and teat placement on a sale from 0 to 50.
ADGA also offers a Dairy Herd Improvement program that includes year round monitoring of milk volume, components and herd health and a genetics award program for members.
“Those programs have increased numbers in our association because there is only one other registry in the country for standard size or miniature dairy goats and they do not offer any of these programs. For us, that brings people in and makes the programs more valuable,” Saum said. “People with different breeds have different mindsets. Some people very much value having that genetic information and they really want some of this information before purchasing their goats.”
As far as the end uses for the diary goat milk from Ohio’s operations, Saum said it really depends.
“Ohio has some very strong laws with milk compared to other states. In Ohio you can do the herd shares, which I have done in the past. Since the customer technically partially owns the animal, they can get the milk and drink it. We used to raise Holstein calves off the extra dairy goat milk. This year I am only freshening six Saanens and three Nigerians. Usually I freshen about 10. Currently my dairy goats are feeding one orphan calf and three orphan sheep and all of their own babies, and we drink the milk too,” she said. “I am a huge advocate of pasteurization of the milk before human consumption. We have some really nice pasteurization equipment that is easy to use. I will not let the milk leave the farm without being pasteurized.”
Dairy goat milk is also popular for making cheeses and soaps.
“The primary use in Ohio is home use. People drink their own milk, make their own cheese, make their own soaps,” Saum said. “People want to leave a small footprint on the world and dairy goats leave a much smaller footprint than dairy cows. The miniature animals have hit the scene and the numbers have just exploded. They are easy to keep. They are small. They provide the right amount of milk for a family and they have high butterfat, which is good for making cheese, sour crème, cottage cheese, anything like that.”
Nationally there are several larger goat dairies that have been selling cheese and other products on a commercial scale. In addition, there is also growing domestic demand for dairy goat meat in Ohio and further east.
“It is a growing industry. It is amazing the prices we see. We have such ethnic diversity in this country and there are many ethnicities that like dairy goat meat. We don’t talk much about that, but you can sell them for meat for almost as much as you can sell them for as a registered breeding animal,” Saum said. “I sold four or five dry yearlings at the Mt. Hope auction before Easter and I got $175 a piece for them. They were Saanens with a dairy background. Somalis, Muslims and Jewish people buy them. They are very popular with the Jewish and Eastern Orthodox people. It is a huge market.”
The meat, cheese and milk markets for dairy goats clearly have room to expand and the cute-goats-wearing-onesies-and-eating-waffles trend certainly shows no signs of slowing any time soon. Those who still need further evidence of the reality of this fad need only conduct a quick online search for “goat video” to find ample goat onesie video viewing opportunities.