There are plenty of jokes shared among cow dairymen that praise one breed at the expense of another, but at the bottom of the heap in nearly every joke is the lowly goat. Lowly in stature compared to their bovine sisters perhaps, but America’s dairy goats are making headway in the dairy industry as contenders for the attention of cheese-savvy consumers.
Milk goats were brought to the New World 300 years ago by its first English settlers in Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, and by Spanish explorers nearly two centuries before that in the American Southwest. The animals were gregarious, easy keepers, infinitely more transportable than cattle and could consistently deliver as many as three or four offspring annually. The young, in turn, would produce milk and meat within one year of birth. Dairy goats became the mainstay of small homesteads and were as much a part of diversified farming as pigs and chickens. A USDA census in 1900 estimated dairy goat numbers at 1.2 million.