Status Of The U.S. Dairy Goat Industry

George F. W. Haenlein
Cooperative Extension Dairy Specialist
University of Delaware


Milk production by the 1 million U.S. dairy goats has an estimated annual value of $500 million, but official statistics are mostly absent. About 300 U.S. dairy goat milk businesses including goat cheese manufacturers process about 24,000 tons fluid goat milk and produce about 600 tons of cheeses. The market potential is much greater since at least that many tons of French goat cheese alone are annually imported. The market potential for fluid milk by medical reasons alone is conservatively at least 12,000 tons per year, but half of the U.S. states have no specific goat milk health regulation and commerce ordinance, and more than half of the larger U.S. cities have no fluid goat milk supply. Medical reasons for goat milk are estimated at 1 person in 1,000. Reasons for the market imbalance and demand exceeding supply is a lack of producer infrastructure, lack of producer supply organization, lack of goat milk and product promotion, unsatisfactory farmgate prices for goat milk, lack of incentives for producing goat milk all-year-round instead of mostly seasonally, and lack of fair goat milk quality standards, which are inappropriate if they are copies of cow milk standards. Complicating this situation is that no widely acceptable routine methods for monthly monitoring of true leucocyte levels as indicators of presence or absence of subclinical or clinical mastitis in tank milk and individual doe milk exist. Furthermore, research is lacking so far to establish acceptable goat milk somatic cell count levels, which must be valid at the end of lactation as well as in the middle and at the beginning.


The U.S. dairy goat industry is on the threshold of being recognized as a necessary and legitimate U.S. industry (Maxey, 1993). However, U.S. dairy goats have not yet reached the status necessary for official USDA statistical livestock reporting of dairy goat numbers in each state, the amount of their milk produced per year, volume of goat cheese produced and marketed, goat milk powder, evaporated and UHT milk produced, and other dairy goat products marketed (Haenlein, 1994; FAO, 1991). Therefore any numbers given can only be derived from articles in the 2 national dairy goat trade magazines, or from the official national records of those breeders participating in the national and state programs of Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) record keeping. This participation is expensive because of the much smaller volume of milk compared to cows and averages $1.50 per doe per month. Dairy cow farmers can absorb this cost much easier from their commercial milk sales. DHIA participation includes only about 1 percent of all U.S. dairy goat keepers with 16,000 records annually, but results are internationally recognized for genetic evaluations of yield and type traits (Wiggans & Hubbard, 1991). Dimensions of the goat milk industry in the USA have been reviewed (Anonymous, 1985; Haenlein, 1981; 1986; Campbell, 1992). While the six important U.S. dairy goat breeds: Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen and Toggenburg are of European origin, their production levels are among world leaders, but only on an individual and herd level and they are not yet supported by strong marketing organizations, as they distinguish the dairy goat industries in several European countries.


Annual registrations of U.S. dairy goats are presently around 46,000 head by about 12,000 adult and 5,000 junior breeder members (Maxey, 1993). Nubians are the leading breed with 11,000 females registered annually, followed by Alpine (7,000), LaMancha (4,000), Saanen (3,000), Toggenburg (2,500), Oberhasli (1,000), others, besides males. Leading dairy goat states are California by far, then Texas, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin in descending order, and mainly states, which permit raw milk sales by license. Sale of registered dairy goat stock involves around 23,000 head annually. Enthusiastic participation by dairy goat breeders in official shows, limited to registered stock, is about 75,000 head at 1,600 locations annually.

Leading official production records (Wierschem, 1993) with 305-day lactation length for each breed (year of record) are: Toggenburg (1983) - 3,023 kg milk, 102 kg fat; Alpine (1982) - 2,916, 140; Saanen (1982) - 2,695, 102; LaMancha (1991) - 2,454, 81; Nubian (1985) - 2,423, 174; Oberhasli (1988) - 1,836, 73. Breed production (305-day lactations) averaged in 1992 officially for Saanen 960 kg milk, 3.5 percent fat, 3 percent protein; for Toggenburg 898, 3.3, 2.98; for Alpine 860, 3.6, 3.09; for LaMancha 774, 3.8, 3.27; for Nubian 740, 4.5, 3.69; and Oberhasli 726, 3.8, 3.07, respectively; but there are no official records or averages for somatic cell counts in U.S. dairy goats, although this testing is offered and widely used by dairy cow farmer participants of monthly DHIA record keeping.

Milk production by U.S. dairy goats has been estimated at 600,000 tons from 1 million head in 1990 (Haenlein, 1992), worth at least $500 million. About 300 dairy goat milk businesses were then known including 35 commercial goat cheese producers. Mixing of goat and cow milk is illegal in USA, which practically eliminates the use of cow milk processing plants for processing goat milk products. About 12,000 tons goat milk is processed into fluid milk, evaporated, UHT, powder; another 12,000 tons has gone into cheeses, mostly soft French type, in recent years, starting from almost nothing in 1980 (Anonymous, 1992). At an average yield of 15 percent, the recent annual U.S. goat cheese production is about 600 tons, equalling approximately the annual amount of French goat cheese imports to the USA. Other goat milk products, like butter, ice cream, yogurt and cosmetic products are not known at all in volume of production and marketing.


The goat milk products market has 3 facets: home use, gourmet, medical need. It has been estimated that U.S. medical need is about 1 person in 1,000 at 1 liter per week, which translates into a minimum potential goat milk market of 12,000 tons per year (Haenlein, 1992). On the commercial potential side there are 22 of the 50 U.S. states without official goat dairy licensing regulations and 70 percent of the larger U.S. cities have no supply of fluid goat milk at all. One reason are Board of Health regulations patterned after dairy cow facility requirements, which are very expensive for a starting dairy goat milk producer. Another reason is the price for goat milk. Production costs for goat milk far exceed those for U.S. cow milk by a ratio of about 2:1 (Anonymous, 1991a). There is no officially regulated goat milk pricing system as it exists for U.S. cow milk. For Grade A - 3.5 percent fat goat milk the producer price range has been from $12 (equal to the cow milk wholesale price at the farmgate) to $44/100 lb milk, depending on what the market for the processor will bear, the higher price usually for processing specialty cheeses. DHIA records have shown dairy goat farm income above feed costs per milking goat (assuming that feed costs make up 50 percent of total milk production costs) to be in 54 Northeast herds $289 to $667 when herd yields are 1,330 to 2,520 lb milk per lactation in 305 days (Haenlein, 1992). Under prevailing feed prices the net cost of producing goat milk, after accounting for the value of kids and manure, was $32/100 lb.

U.S. goat milk production health regulations are part of the total U.S. dairy industry and under the same quality standards as cow milk as long as research does not demonstrate reasons for different standards. In 1993 for the first time the somatic cell count U.S. standard for commercial goat milk was kept at 1,000,000/ml, while the maximum allowance for commercial cow milk was lowered to 750,000, mainly because research data were accumulating to indicate physiological and microbiological differences between goat and cow milk independent of disease status, which would justify different standards between the 2 species without endangering human food safety (Haenlein, 1987; Atherton, 1992). While it is widely accepted that somatic cell counts are a valid indication of abnormal milk secretion and composition in cows, this does not appear to be the case for goat milk and that any maximum somatic cell count as a legal indication of goat milk abnormality would be inappropriate (Atherton, 1992; Lerondelle et al., 1992).

Slowing down the adoption of valid new quality standards for goat milk is the paucity of U.S. basic research in this field so far (Hinckley, 1994), despite new project funding at 9 more Experiment Stations in Texas - Park View, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware during the last decade in addition to California, Texas - San Angelo and Pennsylvania - Philadelphia. Much evidence has come instead from research in France, Italy, Spain, Finland, Greece, India (Rota et al., 1993; Upadhyaya & Rao, 1993).

Also complicating the U.S. goat milk standards is the fact of mostly seasonal dairy goat breeding and milk production (Schultz, 1993). Typically dairy goats are in late lactation low production when the goat milk market in the winter season is highest. Price incentives are mostly missing for efforts of more successful all-year-round breeding and milking. Furthermore, many good dairy goat farmers are not located near processors or major consumer markets, making shipment of goat milk expensive ($1.50 - 1.75/100 lb milk) and affecting economics and quality of goat milk, if transportation is not in refrigerated trucks at least 3 times per week (Haenlein, 1992).

It has been shown that more frequent milking increases migration of neutrophils from blood into the mammary gland for more efficient phagocytosis and mammary gland defense against pathogen infections (Paape et al. 1992). Many dairy goats are milked only once a day routinely. It is also known that the usual somatic cell count methods of DHIA and commercial processing labs, which are calibrated for cow milk are mostly inappropriate for goat milk or need differential methods and new calibration (Atherton, 1992; Poutrel & Lerondelle, 1983).

It is also known that total and differential somatic cell counts differ with stage of lactation (Miller et al. 1991; Rota et al., 1993). If members of a herd of dairy cows always are in various stages of lactation, a single maximum standard of somatic cell counts makes sense. If members of a herd of dairy goats are mostly only in one stage of lactation (because of seasonal breeding) at a certain sampling date, then an all-year-round single applicable maximum standard for goats of somatic cell count does not make physiological nor legal sense.

A further complication compared to cow milk somatic cell count testing is the current prevailing method and testing equipment, which has been found to be unreliable and inappropriate for goat milk (Poutrel & Lerondelle, 1983; Maisi, 1990). Once a direct microscopic cell count, correct routine stain and/or DNA test for true neutrophils (not total somatic cells) in dairy goat milk is identified and adopted, then the difference between calendar months coinciding with stage of lactation months still has to be resolved into a sliding scale of somatic cell count standards all-year-round. A survey of 1,230 bulk tank goat milk samples from 103 commercial goat milk producing farms in 11 different U.S. states during 1984 to 1991 (Anonymous, 1991b) tested by the reliable direct microscopic cell count method, the Fossomatic and the pyronine y-methyl green stain for somatic cell counts (SCC) showed large portions of these non-mastitic samples to be beyond 1,000,000 SCC/ml. Sorted for the months of April through March, the deviations were:10.1, 12.9, 19.9, 25.0, 41.2, 50.4, 49.5, 51.3, 50.5, 52.7, 29.7, 22.7 percent, respectively, showing more than half of all samples beyond 1 million SCC/ml during September to January, which are the months of late lactation in seasonally breeding goat herds.

Unless convincing research evidence on the above points is presented soon, there will be serious discrimination against goat milk producers and processors by regulatory Board of Health agents not appreciating the different physiology and microbiology of dairy goats, and resulting in severe commercial market losses for goat milk products and the fledgling U.S. dairy goat industry.


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