Though slowly growing, the dairy goat industry generates lots of questions, such as: how much land is needed to raise goats, what to feed them, what special equipment is needed, and how to manage them.

“But the one question I rarely get asked is ‘how much does it cost?’,” said Laura Kieser, University of Minnesota dairy Extension educator.

She indicated there can be considerable difference between costs of a hobby operation (10 does) and a commercial operation (100 does). For a hobby operation with 10 milking does, cost per doe per year can be pushing $1,000.

Labor is the largest expense, just as with other livestock. Labor costs (conservatively valued at $5 per hour) run about one-third of the total costs. Other major items are feed costs, hay and operating expenses (supplies, utilities and maintenance). Other costs include bedding, breeding and veterinary expenses.

Kieser presented this scenario of possible income sources of a 10-goat operation.

Animal sales

With 10 milking does, you will average 20 kids born each spring. So additional profit comes from selling kids for breeding stock, as pets or for meat. As you might expect, prices vary greatly.

Exhibiting at shows

Showing can add considerable value to a goat operation. Premiums earned at fairs and shows can offset entry fees. Showing is a way to validate excellent traits in a herd.

Selling milk

On a small-scale operation, milk will likely not be sold commercially but instead used to raise kids or other livestock, for household use and for making other products such as special cheeses, etc.

In commercial operations, goat milk prices vary from $25 to $30 per hundredweight depending upon season and demand. Typical production is five to eight pounds per doe per day during a 305-day lactation.

With a herd averaging 2,000 pounds per doe per year, you’re looking at $500 to $600 gross revenue per doe. Get that herd average up to eight pounds (2,440 pounds per year) and revenue jumps to $610 to $732 per doe.

Value-added products

Just as cheese, yogurt and other dairy products can be made with cow’s milk, the same products can be made from goat’s milk. Various companies sell supplies and kits specifically for small-scale producers interested in manufacturing certain products. So developing a niche market would be another source of additional income.

“People choose to raise goats for many reasons, and economics usually isn’t the first reason for the ‘hobby farmer’ getting into goats,” Kieser said.

So then why goats? Personality of the critters is often mentioned.

“They’re just such cute, interesting creatures,” is an often-heard comment Kieser said. Other reasons are developing friendships with other people with similar interests, finding a solution to dietary issues, seeking a way to connect to the land and providing a “homestead environment” for a family with children.