How to Dry Up Your Dairy Goat
It's the time of year now that many people, including myself, are "drying up" their dairy goats in preparation for the spring kidding season. I just dried up the first doe, so I thought I'd share how I go about it.
First, what does it mean to dry up a goat? Well, dairy goats, like all mammals, begin each "lactation" when they give birth to their kids. This is what stimulates their body to begin producing milk in the first place. Most of the dairy goat breeds are seasonal breeders, meaning that they come into heat and are bred in the fall, and begin kidding in the spring after a 5 month long pregnancy. The usual schedule for a dairy goat is to be "in milk" for 305 days, or approximately 10 months. For most of my own goats, their specific schedule is that they kid in February/March, are bred again in September/October, and then dried up December/January so they can have a 60-day vacation in preparation for their next kidding season. I do usually have stragglers on either side of that though.
So, when it comes time for a doe to be dried up, I switch from twice a day milking to once a day for at least a couple weeks ahead of their dry off date. With the combination of once a day milking as well as being pregnant, this is usually enough to tell their bodies to drop off in production. For heavier producers with more persistent lactations, I'll go from once a day to milking once every 36 hours, then every 48 hours, and once they aren't full and tight already at 48 hours, I'll stop milking, but watch them closely for pain or discomfort, and relieve them a little if necessary.
As an example, here are two does who are both on once a day milking, and are both a couple months into their pregnancies. The doe on the left is only producing a pound of milk a day and is more than ready to be dried up. The doe on the right is still making over 6 lbs a day. (A gallon of milk generally weighs a little over 8 lbs.) Her body will need a little more convincing to slow and stop milk production.
It is possible to dry up a doe earlier in her lactation, and it isn't absolutely necessary to stick to the usual 10 months on, 2 months off schedule. I find it's definitely more difficult, and is a slower process though. Simply not milking them anymore, while they're still producing a lot of milk, has a high risk of causing mastitis, blowing out the teats, and causing premature failure and break down of the ligaments that support the udder, not to mention being extremely painful for the doe.
When a doe is ready to stop being milked, I infuse each teat with a "dry cow" intramammary antibiotic infusion to prevent them from contracting mastitis during the dry period, and potentially treat any subclinical mastitis. All of the products available over the counter or by veterinary prescription only are what is called "extra-label" when used for goats, and require veterinary oversight.
The doe on the left in the pictures above was dried up this morning. I used a product called Spectramast Dry Cow to infuse her.
My protocol for dry up day is to first prep the udder and milk out completely as normal. Then, use one of the alcohol prep pads provided with the box of intramammary infusions to disinfect the teat orifice.
Carefully and gently insert the tip of the infusion pipette into the teat orifice. You only need to get it just barely through the orifice. Then, dispense the full contents of the syringe into the teat, and massage the udder to evenly disperse the medication.
Repeat the full process for the other teat. Then, dip both teats with a post-dip product. I prefer an iodine-based teat dip, and make sure to get full coverage of the entire teat.
Infusing at dry-off isn't absolutely necessary, and it's actually a new protocol I've started doing recently, but after a few mastitis issues this year, I'm using every preventative measure available to me. Mastitis-causing bacteria is everywhere in the environment, and while a strict cleaning procedure can certainly reduce the risk, it can never fully eliminate it.
Whether the doe is infused or not, once they've been milked for the final time of the season, I still let them come in for a small handful of grain for about another week or two, re-dip the teats with the iodine post-dip, and make sure that they're drying up properly. After that, they get to laze around for a couple months, chewing cud, and growing heavy with the newest batch of baby kids!