Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kinder Goats in a Commercial Dairy?

- By Henry Nordloh

For several years, we ran the largest commercial goat dairy in the state of Colorado.  We started small, but grew very quickly.  In the late ‘90’s we were milking a few cows and started looking at adding goats.  We found a goat dairy in Niwot that was interested in buying our milk, so we began buying some goats.  We remodeled our barn so that we could milk 12 goats and three cows at a time, into different tanks of course.  I believe we started shipping goat milk in early 2002.  By 2003, we sold the cows and remodeled the barn again, putting in a double 20 goat parlor.  By 2005, we had well over 450 goats, with 280 in the milking string.

From the beginning, the cheese plant kept asking if we could increase our winter milk production to even out the supply.  They offered price incentives in the form of higher pricing for milk produced October through March.  We had only moderate success.  We tried breeding earlier, we tried breeding later, we tried milking some for extended lactations, we tried everything we could think of, but nothing was highly successful.  The major dairy goat breeds are very photoperiod sensitive.  Shorter days bring on estrus, triggering the breeding response.  Therefore most goats will breed between the summer solstice and the winter solstice.  Hot summer days are not conducive to good pregnancy rates, so the breeding season is further shortened.  Some have had some success with manipulation of lighting, but I was not set up well enough to bet my income on that.  However, there is another way.

Goats developed in Equatorial Africa are not photoperiod sensitive.  They will breed any month of the year.  When crossed with other goats, they seem to pass on that trait.  African Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf are the Equatorial African goats readily available in the U.S.   The Kinder breed was developed in America by crossing registered Anglo-Nubian does with registered African Pygmy bucks.  The offspring were then bred to each other, maintaining the 50% Nubian, 50% Pygmy parentage.  Strict culling and no outcrossing “fixes” the desired traits.  The result is a dairy goat that is approximately ¾ the size of the average dairy goat, but retains a lot of the “meat” characteristics of the Pygmy side of the equation.  At first glance, it would seem to be a huge disadvantage to have ¾ size goats in a commercial dairy.  I like to experiment as much as the next guy, but who wants to milk 25% more goats to get the same amount of milk?  How can it be cost effective to add 25% to your milking time every day?  The bonus for winter milk was only about7%.  That alone would not make up the shortfall.

Conventional wisdom told me that it was a bad idea to put ¾ size goats into a commercial goat dairy.  However, the masses are usually wrong.  If all the dairymen do things the same way, it’s probably wrong.  If you copy what everyone else is doing, you will get the same results they get.  All of the dairies I knew were sold on Saanens and Alpines with a few Nubians thrown in for butterfat.  We had goats of every dairy breed and every cross thereof.

We bought our first Kinders in 2003, just after we remodeled the dairy barn the second time.  We were probably milking between 150 and 180 at the time.  There were not a lot of Kinders available then, so I bought a few from Pat Showalter and a few from Sue Huston.  I could see that it was going to take me a while to get where I needed to be, so I decided to add some “Minis” to the mix.  “Minis” are any breed of dairy goat crossed with Nigerian Dwarf.  I bought a couple of Nigerian Dwarf bucks and used them on some of my Saanen and Toggenburg doelings, to produce Mini-Saanens and Mini-Toggs.  Minis perform very similarly to Kinders, at least they did for us.  They, too, will kid out of season.

In the fall of 2004, I was able to freshen 8 or 9 Kinders and approximately 16 Mini-Saanens and Mini-Toggs.  By March of 2005, we were milking 280 goats, about 10% of which were Kinders and Minis.
Never one to maintain the status quo, we changed something pretty major every year.  During the same time frame that we were adding Kinders and Minis to the herd, we started experimenting with ways to cut our feed costs.  I started by buying a bunch of whole corn from the man that produced our hay.  We were feeding 300 tons of hay a year at that point, mostly third and fourth cutting alfalfa.  We were feeding a dairy grain mix in the barn.  I thought I could cheapen that up by adding some whole corn to it.  I didn’t see many results.  But then, I got a tape by Jerry Brunetti from Acres USA about the benefits of adding sprouted grains to the ration.  Whole corn was what we had, so whole corn is what we used.  We would fill 5 gallon buckets about 2/3 full of whole corn, rinse as much of the dirt out as we could, then fill the bucket on up with water and let soak overnight.  We were using 3 buckets per day, but we were feeding 280 goats.  We would dump those 3 buckets into a 30 gallon trash can with holes drilled in the bottom to let the water out.  We would rinse the sprouts twice a day at milking time.  We would feed them on the third day, half at the morning milking, half at the evening milking.  We would pour them on top of the other grain.  You can sprout longer, but three days seemed to work the best for us.  The corn would tend to go sour if we tried to go longer than three days.  That can be alleviated by rinsing more often, but we were all working other jobs so were only able to rinse at milking time.

All dry seeds contain enzyme inhibitors.  If you feed dry grains, the animal has to make enzymes to digest the grain before digestion actually begins.  That uses energy.  When you feed sprouts, the enzymes for digestion are already there.  If I had to pick the one thing that changed my dairy operation the most, this was it.  The results we saw from feeding sprouts were nothing short of incredible.  Goats can be very picky eaters, sorting through the grain ration to eat what they like.  We put the grain mix in the trough first, putting the sprouted corn on top.  At first, they would push the sprouted corn aside and eat only the grain, but as they got used to it, they ate it with relish.

The transformation in the goats was something to see.  I thought we had happy contented goats before, but it was like the whole farm just relaxed once we started feeding sprouts.  All of us noticed it.  You could literally feel it when you walked onto the property.  We had been giving sodium bicarbonate and kelp free choice in the holding pen.  Once they started eating the sprouts, they quit eating the sodium bicarbonate altogether, and cut their kelp intake by about half.  We were able to cut our purchased grain usage by 50% with no loss in milk production.  Our forage usage dropped by 20%.  All of this because the sprouts were providing the enzymes they needed.

The transformation in the goats alone would have been enough for me to continue growing sprouts.  The savings in feed costs, by itself, would have been enough reason to sprout.  But the good news even gets better.  The change in the milk was as dramatic as the change in the goats.  I don’t know how to adequately describe it.  It looked better, it smelled better, and it tasted better, not that it was bad before.  If you’ve never lifted the lid on a tank of milk that has several hundred gallons of milk in it, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about.  It is like trying to describe the difference between a Hershey bar and Dove chocolate.  Some won’t know the difference, but one is less harsh.  The milk looked creamier and smelled sweeter.  Part of the difference in the milk was due to the growing influence of the Kinders and Minis, but at that point the sprouts were the star of the show.

Up until that point, I didn’t understand the influence of MUN (Milk Urea Nitrogen) levels in milk, or how to control them.  When I had my milk tested for SCC, Protein, and BF, they would always give me the MUN levels, but it was useless information to me.  As I saw the milk changing and the MUN levels dropping, I made the connection.  MUN levels need to be in a range, but too high levels show that a lot of the protein you are feeding is being wasted.  High MUN levels probably affect the shelf life and taste of milk more than anything else.

I could see the changes happening in our milk, but you’re never sure if others see what you are seeing.  But when the cheese maker at the cheese plant started coming immediately to get a glass of our milk to drink as we were making our delivery, you knew something was up.  “How do you tell your boss,” he would ask, “that his milk tastes like crap?”  “Not crap,” I would say, “more like urine.  There is too much urea in the milk from too much grain.”

But, enough of that.  The question on the table is; “How will Kinders and Minis do in a commercial dairy operation?  Can they compete?  Will they be bullied because of their smaller size, and will they produce enough milk to make them financially viable?  The Kinders and Minis in our operation were given no special treatment.  They ran with 200 lb. Saanens with no problems.  If they wanted to be first in the barn, they were first in the barn. You could see them wiggling their way through all those big goats to be first in line.  Our door to the parlor opened upward.  As soon as you opened it a crack, they would push their way under it, leaving the larger goats outside, wondering what happened.  They were a joy to work with.  However, the bottom line is the bottom line.  How would the numbers stack up?

We were paid for our milk on a formula based on the protein and butterfat content of the milk.  All of our milk was going into cheese, and cheese yield is directly correlated to butterfat and protein content.  Casein has an impact too, but was not considered in the price.  As higher butterfat and protein content translates to higher dollars, it behooves you to shoot for that, unless you just like to haul water.  Butterfat and protein are usually lowest in May and June.  In May of 2005 our herd average was 3.77% BF, 3.11% Pro with a tank average of 5.4 lbs. of milk per day per goat.  Keep in mind that tank average is different than what you might expect from a one day milk test.  Tank average is the actual amount of milk shipped for the month divided by the number of days and number of goats milked.  It does not take into consideration milk used for personal consumption or milk used to feed kids.  It only takes into account the milk actually sold.  Butterfat and Protein were derived from a sample drawn directly from the milk tank.  The price we received, based on the formula, was $29.53/cwt or 29.53 cents per pound.  In order to see how the Kinders and Minis compared, I measured their milk and sent in a sample to be tested for BF & Protein.  As I had no way to keep their milk separate from the rest of the herd, I did a one day milk test on all of them using a milk meter.  The sample was a composite sample drawn from the receiver before it went to the milk tank.  Some people “fudge” their one day milk tests by not milking for several hours before the test, but we milked at the same times every day so the tests were accurate, though skewed from a tank average.  No attempt was made to differentiate between Kinders and Minis as their milk components and size are very similar.  Our May Kinder and Mini average was 5 lbs. milk per day per goat with 4.98% BF and 3.92% Protein. The price we would have received for their milk would have been $37.85/cwt versus the $29.53/cwt we received for the herd average.  June herd average was 5.4 lbs. milk at 3.45% BF and 3.14% Protein.  Kinder and Mini average was 5 lbs. milk at 4.12% BF and 4.25% Protein.  Kinder and Mini milk would have brought $37.48/cwt versus $28.82/cwt for the herd average.  Our feed costs at the time were running $13/cwt of milk sold.  That included all of the feed used during the year divided by the milk sold for the year.  Therefore, all of the feed used during the dry period, and all of the feed used for replacements, and all of the bedding was included in the cost per cwt.  When you deduct feed costs from the equation, Kinders and Minis come out the winners by a large margin, about 30%.  Daily income over feed costs for herd average in May comes out at $0.89 versus $1.24 for Kinders and Minis.  The numbers for June are similar, with $0.85 for the herd and $1.22 for the Kinders and Minis. 

I realize that my results are a little skewed because I used tank average for the herd and one day milk test for the Kinders and Minis, so I pulled production, BF and Protein numbers for all the major dairy breeds directly from ADGA to see how they would compare.  Using their numbers against my pricing and feed costs, I came up with the following:  Income over feed costs were $1.04/day for Alpine, $1.32/day for Nubian, $1.06/day for Saanen, $0.91/day for Toggenburg, and $1.02/day for LaMancha.  Actual tank averages for these breeds would be lower.  Why are tank averages lower?  The most obvious reason is that the milk fed to kids is not added in.  However, there are other reasons that may not be so obvious.  People will “cull” on paper some of the goats they really haven’t culled.  What do I mean by that?  When people milk test their goats, often the marginal ones won’t be tested, because they don’t want to spend the money or they want to appear more successful than they really are.  This skews the numbers for the whole breed.  If they were selling the milk, it would be going into the tank, so even the marginal goats would be counted in the tank average.  We’ve all kept goats that should have been culled, either because we needed the milk or we were so busy we didn’t notice the ones that needed to go. 

Just a note on culling.  Always be aware of what you are looking for.  If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.  Sometimes we are afraid to cull because we are unsure of our ability to choose the right thing.  If you need direction, read everything you can get your hands on by Gearld Fry, Jan Bonsma, Jim Lents, and James Drayson.  Yes, they are talking about cattle, but most of what they say can be applied to goats. The things they say about dual purpose cows relate especially well to Kinders and Minis.  These men are God’s gift to us.  Take advantage of their wisdom.

Also, do what’s right.  Yes, you must always sell off the bottom, but you need to sell some off the top, too.  It’s the right thing to do.  I always sold goats that were about 2 months into their 5th lactation.  That’s when they are at their peak.  They will bring more money at that point than at any other time of their life.  Don’t miss that window of opportunity.  You already have gotten 5 sets of kids and the milk from 4 lactations from these goats, so let someone else benefit from their subsequent lactations.  They will pay you well, and the fact that you sell some good goats will pay off in the kids and culls you sell later on.  You will improve all of the goats in the area eventually by putting great goats out there.  I’ve seen it happen.  You will see goats popping up all over that show your genetics.  That’s good for the industry, not just good for you.

We ended up selling out in the fall of 2005, before we were able to change the whole herd to Kinders and Minis.  If I were milking today, I would be milking exclusively Kinders and Minis.  I would leave the big goats to the masses.  The masses are always wrong.  If I were to design another parlor, I would put in a double 14 for 1 milker, double 12 at a minimum. I would make the headgates shorter and tighten up the spacing to fit Kinders and Minis better.  If I were to design for two milkers, I would put in a double 28, double 24 at the minimum.  We were milking in a double 20, too many for 1 milker, not quite enough for 2.  Milking is all about efficiency.  It wasn’t terrible, but we could have handled more.  I know a dairy that was milking 100 goats in a single 8 parlor.  That would have driven me nuts.  We had nothing behind the goats in the parlor.  Most people have some kind of fencing behind the goats to keep them from jumping off.  It’s unnecessary, and only gets in your way, wasting time.  They can be trained not to jump off.  If they insist on jumping off, they get a ride to the sale barn.  I understand why people give their goats things to play on, but if they learn to jump when they are little, they will jump off the milking platform when they are older.  We raised our kids in pens made from 30” tall hog panels.  It was handy, because we could step over them.  People would ask why the kids didn’t jump out.  It was simple.  They didn’t know they could.  When they went into the pen, they were too little to jump out, and by the time they came out, they didn’t realize they had grown enough to do it.

What started, for us, as a way to get more winter milk, ultimately led us to goats that were easier to handle and more profitable.  Good things often come in small packages.

A huge thank you to Henry Nordloh for writing this wonderfully informative article! The information provided is invaluable!


  1. Excellent article! It is great to hear from Henry, and such valuable information for anyone considering using Kinders in a dairy situation. Encouraging information as well for those who want Kinders only for their own families. I agree - invaluable input from a man who has done the work - many thanks!

    Pat Showalter

    1. Thanks, Pat. Good to hear from you, too.

      Henry Nordloh

  2. Great information! Thank you Henry!!

    1. You are most welcome! Though I no longer have goats, Kinders will always have a special place in my heart. Great goats! Thank you, Ramona.

      Henry Nordloh

  3. Fantastic article! Henry is no longer in goats? What a loss!

  4. Out of curiosity what are your MUN levels? I know they are different for goats so I am trying to figure out what the ideal number should be.