Owning livestock, particularly goats, can be an exciting task once you’ve done your homework. It even gets more fun when you can get milk from your goats. Goat milk is a beneficial product, and it’s also a means to make more money. However, one of the questions that might pop up while you’re at it is if your goats can produce milk without being pregnant.
Goats can produce milk without being pregnant if they’ve given birth to kid(s) recently and haven’t ended their current lactation period or “dried up.” In general, a goat’s lactation period after birthing kids can last for months or years, depending on goat breed and how often they’re being milked.
It all starts with how you can get your goats to produce milk in the first place, and then it ends with what happens if you don’t milk your goats. Not to worry, all you need to know about this process will be answered, so let’s do this and talk about all things goats, milk, and milking.
Goats Have to Have Babies to Produce Milk
Breeding your female goat – doe – sends a hormonal signal to her body to start milk production for her offspring. Generally, a doe is ready to breed between once she’s 10 to 15 months old. Once your goat is pregnant, you can be sure she will produce milk right after giving birth to her first kid.
Some goat farmers will breed does as early as 7 months of age to kickstart the milk production process. However, 7 months can be too young for many goat breeds. Most smaller goat operations recommend waiting until about a year old before breeding their doelings.
You need to know that female goats, just like every other mammal, produce milk only when they have babies. It’s simply the law of nature. That implies that if you want to get milk from your goats, you must first breed them in order to activate the natural hormonal response to produce milk.
Other factors that can determine the quantity or quality of milk you can get from a doe are age, breed, nutrition, genetics, udder health, overall health, and the number of kids.
Do Female Goats (Does) Produce Milk Without Being Pregnant?
Right after having its kid, a doe will continue producing milk while nursing its kid. It has to feed its young. However, you may not be able to get the same amount of milk from all your does, at least not enough to sustain you and your goat’s kid(s) at the same time.
Different breeds of goats are bred for different purposes. We have dairy goats, fiber goats, and meat goats. As the names imply, the various kinds of goats are kept for different purposes.
- Dairy goats are reared and kept for their milk;
- Fiber goats produce high-quality fiber; and
- Meat goats are reared for their meat.
- Dual or multi-purpose goats can be kept for more than one purpose, although they’re generally less productive overall at multiple things than a single-purpose breed goat is.
You have a high chance of getting more milk from a dairy goat – enough for you and the goat’s kid(s) – than you would from a meat or fiber goat. A meat or fiber goat will produce enough milk to sustain its young when it isn’t pregnant, but that’s about it.
Does make milk if they have (or think they have) kids to feed
Be it a dairy goat, a meat goat, or a fiber goat, does can make milk when not pregnant if they have a young kid to feed. After weaning its kid, the doe’s milk supply will naturally decrease over time as its kids adapt to eating regular goat foods. That is, of course, unless you want to get a daily supply of milk from your goat by milking it.
Milking your goat makes the goat’s hormones think it’s still nursing its kids, and so your does will continue producing milk. Some goats, especially dairy goats, can regularly produce milk for as long as two years before they need to be “freshened” again via breeding. On some rare occasions, they can be milked longer than that!
You can also keep your goats producing milk by:
- Feeding them high protein grain;
- Providing them plenty of hay;
- Providing them with necessary minerals that encourage milk production;
- Watching out for signs of mastitis and treating it promptly. Mastitis is a bacterial infection that leads to the inflammation of a goat’s mammary gland.
I’ve found that milking our Nigerian dwarf goats once a day wasn’t sufficient to keep up their supply for more than a few months. That will vary from goat breed to breed, but if you’re wanting milk, then keep in mind that you’re probably going to want to milk your goat at least twice per day for as long as you want fresh milk.
What Happens if You Do Not Milk a Goat?
Getting your goat to produce milk when it isn’t nursing a kid takes a lot of commitment. You have to ensure that you work the teats daily to produce milk. Once you stop milking your goats, or if you are inconsistent about it, your goat’s milk supply will drastically reduce until it finally stops.
You also have to realize that even if you diligently milk the goat every day, that doesn’t mean you will get an infinite supply of milk from the goat. There’s only so much milk you can draw out of a goat before it finally stops producing milk. As I mentioned earlier, you can enjoy a constant milk supply from your goat for as long as two years, and in some rare cases, more than two years.
However, that’s for dedicated dairy goat breeds – and usually only the larger goats. It’s also usually for goats who have had at least a couple of sets of kids and been freshened several times. Goats who are first fresheners (they’ve only had one set of kids) won’t usually stay in milk as long as more mature goats will.
Whatever causes your goat to finally stop producing milk, either by inconsistent milking or the milk supply naturally running out, you will have to breed her again to restart the milk flow.
Some goat owners milk their goats for a shorter period, say ten months, then leave the goats to dry up so they can breed them again. Sometimes, they do this to boost the quality of the milk over time.
Do Goats Produce Milk Before Giving Birth?
Goats can produce milk before giving birth, but only after they’ve given birth to at least once. First fresheners won’t be able to be milked until after they’ve delivered their first set of kids.
We’ve already established that a goat only produces milk when it has young ones to feed. While she is pregnant, a doe’s teats will grow bigger, and her udder will begin to fill with milk. As her labor period draws near, the udder will look and feel very large.
This change occurs because the goat’s body is getting ready to receive its young. By the time the goat’s kid is born, the udder is already filled with milk to feed the kid. Goats that are having their first kid may not show this sign until about two weeks or more after the kid has been born. However, a female goat will not produce milk until it has its first kid.
If you’d like to learn more about milking pregnant goats, make sure you check out my guide on getting milk from pregnant goats here. I highly recommend you check it out – so you know when it’s vital that you stop trying to milk a pregnant goat.
Do Only Female Goats Produce Milk?
Nature has made it possible for females of every mammalian species on the planet to produce milk for their young. The same goes for goats – only female goats (does) can reliably and regularly produce milk.
However, as strange as it may sound, there are rare instances of male goats (bucks) producing milk. One of such instances is a male goat belonging to a farmer in India. According to Businessworld, the farmer had a buck that produced milk. Experts clarified that this can happen due to “hormonal imbalances during gender determination in the fetal stage of the animal.”(source)
In other words, a male goat who can produce milk is rare. It happened because, while still in utero, the male goat got flooded with the wrong hormones. Well, they would have been the “right” hormones if the goat had ended up female. But he was a male, so they weren’t the “right” hormones for him. That’s how you end up with a male goat who can produce milk – but who’s also probably not ever going to be bred to females.
In fact, with such an unusual situation, a male milk goat is far more likely to be culled and turned into dinner than ever used as breeding stock. It sounds like it was working for that male milk goat in India, though.
So, yes, only female goats produce milk, but there are extremely rare cases of male goats producing milk. You would probably not come across any in person during your lifetime. But if you do, you can add it to your list of one of the most bizarre things you’ve experienced.
Final Thoughts on Milking Goats
There you have it. Female goats can produce milk when they aren’t pregnant, but it takes a lot of effort on your part. You have to ensure you milk them regularly and provide them with the best nutrients available.
In my experience raising Nigerian dwarf goats, milking them really is a lot of work – even if it is worth the tasty rewards. But you’ve got to be diligent about regular, twice-a-day milking, especially if you’re dealing with first fresheners. They’re a lot more likely to dry up fast if you’re not sticking to your milking schedule than an established milk goat is.
So make sure you stick to your schedule – and make sure you read my article on the easier way to milk your goats with a pump. Trust me – it’ll save your wrists so much effort. So make sure you go read that article next!
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂
- Lee, Author April. “Helpful Facts About How Long Goats Produce Milk.” Farmhouse Guide, 20 Feb. 2021, farmhouseguide.com/how-long-goats-produce-milk/.