The first question was why did I choose goats instead of cows or one of the miniature breeds of cows. That is a very, VERY good question and I hope the small amount that I have learned in the last year can help someone else in a similar situation. Initially, I was very interested in mini-cows, Dexters specifically. I did a lot of research and their land requirements are not excessive, they produce 1-2 gallons a day which is completely sufficient for my small needs, and they do very well in New England climates. Every now and then, I see a sale ad on Craigslist and I wax poetic about my cow that never was.
I ultimately decided on goats for a couple of reasons, but the biggest was that goats are more suited to my land. I have 5.5 acres of land total, and will probably have 3.5 acres of open pasture available after everything is stumped, graded, seeded, etc. My land is rocky, on a slope, and was an old growth forest. I will be applying 2 ton per acre of lime, but it will still be a battle for years to grow good pasture on this acidic soil. I also happen to have two big grazers already competing on my land: the horses. Whatever grass I might grow will be primarily for the horses and then any left over will be for the sheep, pigs, etc.
Notice I did not say goats. Goats are primarily browsers (like deer) and they can and will eat grass, but they do best on browse. The kind of browse you find in a New England meadow which has not been managed for pasture. Goats have a very high mineral requirement and the brush has deeper roots to bring those minerals to the surface. Raspberries, shrubs, pine, etc. Anything they can get to really. And my land, for the foreseeable future, will be growing plenty of browse. Sheep, cows, and horses are grazers and will compete for grass. Goats can eat "the rest of it", the stuff along the tree line or in the darker, less hospitable reaches of the land.
Additionally, goats are smaller and "more manageable" which is a completely subjective assessment, but it works for me. I own a draft horse. I know big animals. But I didn't even want to deal with full-sized goats (which can pull 400 lbs, strong little critters). So I chose mini-goats (which still pull 200 lbs, I am somewhere south of that number. Yes, my 2' goat pulls me around). Mini goats can be housed in smaller pens and are low impact. They don't turn any patch of ground into instant mud (like my horses). They need only a 4' fence, versus a 5' fence for standard goats (cows are easier to fence, by far). Pound for pound, they produce more milk with less feed.
Ah, but how much milk? I think it's reasonable to expect 2 qts a day from a good mini-goat producer, which is not anywhere close to the production of even the smallest cow. Standard goats can give a gallon or more a day. But here's the kicker. With three or four goats in milk, I can stagger the breedings and never be in a dry period. With a single cow, once she's dry, you wait... wait... wait... for milk. If you need smaller amounts but want it daily (which also ties you down to the farm, etc), then more little goats might be a better way to go.
Goats have a much smaller "setup" charge. Ever price a good milk cow? They are completely worth their price tag, but for a first time ruminent owner, I wanted something with less cash invested. Of course, that is slightly cruel to think about, but a very real practicality of farm life. My goats are housed in a little shed, 8' x 10'. I did not have to build a larger barn for them. Also, I milk my goats in my basement. They walk down the stairs of the bulkhead just fine and I can keep my basement cleaner than I can keep my barn. A cow would need a bigger setup and I would obviously not expect them to go down stairs into my basement. The way my land is situated, there is not a really good location for another barn and milk parlor, so even facilities weighed into my decision.
Properly handled goat milk is not musky or "goaty". It is sweeter than cow's milk and has a slightly different texture (the milk is naturally homogenized), but it is definitely as palatable as a drinking milk. So you really don't give up anything there. Goat meat is not really as good as beef, in my opinion, so if you want to butcher the male offspring for your freezer, cows make more sense, and more meat.
And finally, I just love my goats. I am biased since I have never spent a considerable amount of time with a good dairy cow, so feel free to disregard this last item. A dairy animal is an animal with which you will bond heavily. You will spend a great deal of time, twice a day, pressed at her side, smelling her skin, feeling the heat come off of her body, grooming her, caring for her. You have to not only like your dairy animal, you need to love her. My little Jolene, as the matriarch of my goat herd, and the sole milk producer at this time, is by far the most important animal on this farm. I am intensely bonded with her. So if cows are your thing and not goats, please get a cow.
The second question was if I thought I would produce as much food if I didn't work from home. This is another good question and one I consider almost daily. I think the answer is "Yes", if you don't also have another full time hobby, like riding horses. During the growing season, our weekends are usually full of farm work and if we didn't have to also ride 5 times a week or go to horse shows, we could fit it in more easily. But make no mistake, this farm is our life, it's pretty much all we do. We don't have TV, we don't really go to movies. We eat out maybe once a week and that's usually lunch on the way to the hardware store for some project. We very rarely get to go hang out with friends partly because we are rural and far away, and partly because we can't take 6 hours out of our day to sit around and drink beer, as much as we would like to. But we've made the farm our priority, at least for this Five Year Plan, and so we are committing everything we have. It is possible to get an evening away (milk early and then again when we get home) and once we find a good farm sitter, even more time away. I have friends who take very long vacations from their farms with the right farm sitter. It's very doable. We just haven't done it yet. But this year is the year. I haven't had a real vacation in eight years, and I WILL GO ON VACATION THIS YEAR. Just as soon as the kids are weaned, and the pasture is seeded, and the goat paddock completed, and the drainage lines dug, and the outdoor garden planted, and... and... and...
I think I just made my point.