Goat

The Why and How to Dry Up A Dairy Goat

Wellness : Health

Michael Schlegel, Ph.D., PAS, Dipl. ACAS-Nutrition

Sr. Nutritionist, Wildlife & Small Ruminant Technical Solutions

Dry off of dairy goats before the next lactation is beneficial for does’ health and helps improve goat milk production in future lactations. Start by choosing a dry off date based on your herd goals. Adjust dairy goat feed for 2-3 weeks before dry off and continue milking until your selected date.
 
Understanding the why and how to dry up a dairy goat is a key part of management that can impact health and future goat milk production. Find out how to properly dry off your dairy goats with these three tips:

Why should you dry off dairy goats?

Dairy goat producers dry off does for various reasons. Some considerations include drying off does when they drop below a set level of milk production or allowing drug residues for treatments to be eliminated from the body and not enter consumed milk.
 
Drying off does allows the udder to rest and prepare for the next lactation. During the dry period, dairy goats can regain weight and body condition lost during lactation and help control udder health.1
 
Additionally, research has shown that a dry off period can help improve future dairy goat milk production. One study.2 using Murciano-Granadina dairy goats showed does that didn’t have a dry period before their next kidding had smaller kids, colostrum with fewer immunoglobulins and lower future milk production than does with a 27- or 56-day dry period. The negative impact of a lack of a dry period on dairy goat milk production was due to impaired cell replacement in the udder during dry off.

When should you dry off dairy goats?

In most meat goat operations where the kids remain with the doe, does will continue lactating until weaning. As kids start consuming solid feed and acquiring nutrients elsewhere, nursing slows, leading to milk production naturally decreasing and eventually stopping. However, in dairy goats, the dry off period is more deliberate and should be managed to minimize stress on the animal.
 
Most dairy goat producers have a planned length of lactation (the standard is 305 days). Timing for dry off is based on goat milk production goals and breeding practices. The dry off process should start 2-3 weeks before the planned dry off time with milk secretion stopping three days after the last milking.3
 
One common dry off practice that’s not ideal is reducing the frequency of milking from twice a day to once a day and then to every other day. A gradual reduction in milking continues to stimulate the udder to make milk and keeps it open to bacterial infection.4

What changes to goat feed should be made?

Starting 2-3 weeks before the dry off day, slowly reduce the amount of energy in the diet by removing grain-based goat feed and alfalfa and switch to grass hay or other high-fiber goat feeds.5 Don’t restrict the amount of feed offered to allow does to feel full while reducing the overall energy and nutrient content.
 
Continue milking does during this period and offer free-choice, readily available water. Also consider speaking with your herd veterinarian during this time about a recommended dry period mastitis treatment.
 
After two weeks of reduced dietary energy, assess each goat’s udder to see how much milk is being produced, and to evaluate udder health. Abruptly dry off if milk production is minimal and the udder is healthy. Abrupt dry off means does are milked one final time and then not again until the next lactation.5
 
Get more tips on how to properly feed your dairy goats during the dry period.
 

1 Ontario Goat. 2016. Does your dry off management ensure doe health and welfare. Goat Gazette. Available at: https://ontariogoat.ca/goat-gazette/dry-off-management/.
2 Caja, G., A.AK. Salama, and X. Such. 2006.  . Journal of Dairy Science. 89:4220-4228.
3 Fleet, I.R. and M. Peaker. 1978. Mammary function and its control at the cessation of lactation in the goat. Journal of Physiology. 279:491-507.
Montgomery, T.L. 2016 Lactation overview, milking practices and procedures. In: R.C. Merkel, T.A. Gibson, and T. Sahlu editors. Dairy Goat Production Handbook. E (Kika) de la Garza American Institute for Goat Research, Langston University, OK. p. 203-215.
Kerr, S. 2011. Drying-Off Lactating Livestock.  Available at: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/drying-lactating-livestock.