by Wendy Komancheck
"Alpine dairy goats are an excellent livestock choice for families," says Vicki Larson of Harmody Alpines in Windsor, Colo. (www.harmodyalpines.com
). "They provide milk and meat while still being able to be handled by people of all ages. Their personalities make them fun to be around. No matter the age, babies or adults, Alpines provide great entertainment."
Others who work with Alpine goats will also testify to this breed's positive qualities.
Linda Spahr, of the 4-H Science Team with Penn State Extension of York County, notes that Alpines have sweet temperaments and are generally quiet goats. She also states that the breed is outstanding in their milking output, adding that Alpines have good bone structure that helps them to produce milk longer in their lives compared to other goat breeds.
"Alpine dairy goats stand apart from other dairy goat breeds with their ear type (upright) and variety of color patterns," Larson says. "For us, we feel they stand out from other breeds because of their inquisitive personalities and elegant, deer-like conformation."
Every breed of animal comes with its challenges, and the Alpine goat is no different.
"Alpines are extremely intelligent," Larson notes. "Once they learn how to open a gate, they never forget. We learned to hook every gate, every time. We have also found the diversity in the genetic makeup of the breed increases the difficulty of maintaining a consistency of type. We work on this by researching pedigrees thoroughly when making mating decisions."
Spahr notes that, like any other animal, Alpines are prone to parasites and other health issues. However, she says that "for the most part, [they] are a hardy breed."
Larson recommends that a farmer should have one buck per 20 does.
"Typically, you would keep the buck separate from the does to eliminate potential milk flavoring and unplanned breeding, and just introduce them during estrus. Bucks are also very active during breeding season, so pens need to be strong enough to keep them in. Having a buck on the property helps identify when the does are in standing estrus," Larson explains.
Spahr says that since artificial insemination in goats is lower than what farmers and breeders like, a breeder needs a live buck to mate with a doe when she's in estrus, or to "hand-mate" by turning a buck in with a doe when she is in heat, and then removing him when the job is done.
"I would not keep a buck with my does, but would turn a live buck in with does for a specific length of time," Spahr says.
Alpine goats' gestation is 150 days, just like their cousins.
"The majority of our does are able to birth on their own. However, if they are in distress, they let us know," Larson says.
Like most goat breeds, Alpines make very good mothers, both in birthing their young and in the nurturing process.
"Generally, because they are a good, structured goat, they have few birthing difficulties. However, any goat can have problems, usually caused by outside factors, like [the] buck and nutrition," Spahr says.
However, Spahr recently helped a goat owner with a maiden doe's first birth. The doe experienced ring womb, where she couldn't naturally deliver her kids, so a cesarean section was performed.
According to Spahr, ring womb occurs when kids die in the womb and there's no stimulation in the cervix. This lack of stimulation causes the cervix to close, making the doe unable to deliver the dead kids.
"Ring womb is no more common in Alpines than in any other goat," Spahr notes. "C-sections in goats, if done before the kids turn toxic and poison the doe, are very successful. It is stressful to the goat, but with antibiotics, pain meds and good management, most goats recover well. And some go on to be bred and kid in future years."
Spahr warns against giving oxytocin to goats with ring womb: "Unfortunately, some folks will give oxytocin to try to open the cervix, and if it is truly ring womb, this may actually cause the cervix to rupture. Best thing, when in doubt--call a vet or take the goat to the vet for an emergency visit."
Larson bottle-raises her kids, but she doesn't separate the does and their kids right away. Instead, the does take an active part in stimulating their newborns before the separation period begins.
"We bottle-raise all of the kids on pasteurized goat milk, so we hand-milk our goats twice a day, pasteurize the milk, and then bottle-feed the babies three times a day for three months," Larson explains. "Lots of manual labor."
Larson says that because they show their dairy goats, bottle-raising the kids is essential to train them to be handled by humans.
"Bottle-feeding and hand-milking allows us to have more hands-on time with both kids and does. With this, we are aware of any problems sooner, and the goats trust us more. We do not have to chase a goat down when they need to be handled," Larson explains.
The Larsons also manage their goat herd by keeping kids that will fit in with their breeding program and selling the others for packing, breeding, pets or as a family milk source.
"Alpines are high-production milkers, but the butterfat in their milk is not as high as a Nubian," Spahr notes. "If you're interested in cheese production, Alpines may not be your choice, but if you want milk, the Alpine produces a sweet milk that tastes wonderful when chilled."
Larson agrees with that assertion. Her Alpines produce 1 to 1.5 gallons per day, and they have some Alpines that produce up to 2 gallons a day. Larson also notes that in the record books there are some Alpines that can produce up to 2.5 gallons of milk per day.
"Alpine goats are good producers, come in all different colors and patterns, are very personable, athletic and adventurous, and are a healthy, hardy breed," Larson concludes.
Wendy Komancheck writes for and about the green business industry from her home in Lancaster County, Pa. For more information, visit http://wendykomancheckswriting.wordpress.com.
Photos courtesy of Harmody Alpines, Windsor, Colo.
These organizations can guide you as you begin raising Alpine goats:
French Alpine Dairy Goats
Homestead Milk Goats