Maternity leave for goats? Are you kidding? No I am not kidding. Goats should get maternity leave. If you care for the health of your goats then they should. If you care for the quality of the milk you are getting from your goats then they should.
A goat's body works very hard to make milk for us. It takes a lot out of their little bodies. Just think of it in the terms of a person. It would be very hard to breast feed your child well past the time of weaning. Goats continue to provide us milk long after their kids have moved on to new homes or been weaned by force by momma goat.
Goats are usually milked until they either dry up or their production drops so low it is deemed not worth milking them and then they are bred again. Many people will milk through the entire pregnancy of the goat. It is possible to do this but this is not good for your goats health or the health of the kids that will be soon entering the world. You want your goats and kids to be top quality and therefore you have to care for them in a manner that will allow for top quality animals.
So at what point do you stop milking a pregnant goat? Do you stop when you think she is pregnant? Well that all depends on your goats. We plan to milk the goats up until about 2 months before they are due to kid. We will not start milking them again until about 6 weeks after they kid. Yes, this is a sacrifice for us because we only have two goats and due to logistics we breed them at the same time. It ends up with us being about 3 1/2 months without our loved goat's milk.
Now, I figure some of you are saying - well if you are going 3 months without milk then you are only getting milk for 9 months. Well not really because our girls milked for a year before we bred them. So they will get their 3 1/2 month break and then we will milk them hopefully for another year. We do not breed them until their milk production drops to half or less of what they produce at their peak.
Some people will start to milk the goats sooner after the kids are born and there is no reason not to. You can put the rowdy kids up for the night and then milk the Mommas in the morning if you choose.
The main point of the "maternity leave" for your does is so their bodies can build strength and store nutrients for the birth of their kids that may be your future dairy goats.
I know we -as in humans- don't get 3 1/2 months of maternity leave but we are also don't get milked 2 times a day through our maternity either......
So how do you go about giving your goats a break from milking? Do not just stop milking them. Some people recommend using a commercial product that is supposed to dry up the milk but from what I have read about these products they do not dry up the milk they are antibiotics to help prevent the mastitis that may occur from just stopping the milking. This is not something that we choose to do with our goats. We choose to also try to go the most natural route possible. In choosing this method we decided to use a method that we read about where you slow the milking down a little at a time. By the time you get to the point to reducing the milking times your goats should have already dramatically reduce their output on their own.
The second step if you are milking two times a day is to reduce the milking schedule to one time a day. You need to keep an eye on your goats to ensure they are not too uncomfortable to where it is painful. I will tell you I still go out there each evening after I stopped milking because they are used to seeing me at those times and they seemed a little panicky about my not coming out to milk. You also want to be sure and reduce their grain intake. I basically just give them a little scoop of grains in the evening and a nice helping of hay.
After about 2 weeks of only morning milking then start dropping it off to about every other day. After about 2 weeks of milking on alternate days you may find there's just not enough milk to continue the schedule and you can stop milking. The little milk that they still produce will be reabsorb. If they are still producing or seem to be uncomfortable then you can extend the days even farther for another 2 weeks and finally you should be done.
The key to this whole process is knowing your goats and knowing what is normal behavior. You do not want your goats to get mastitis so you need to be sure that they are not overly swelling with milk and in pain. If you have to milk just enough to relieve their discomfort their bodies will get used to reabsorbing the rest.
So what do you say? Do your goats deserve maternity leave?