Fuping county, located in Shaanxi province, is well-known as "the hometown of Chinese dairy goat". There are more dairy goats in China's Fuping County than any county in the world. According to goat specialists, there are 320,000 dairy goats in Fuping County. This compares to 310,000 dairy goats in the entire United States, according to the latest USDA NASS statistics (2008). The average goat farmer has fewer than 10 does. Single dairy goats can often be seen being led down the road. The government is encouraging larger dairy goat farms, based on several organizational models. The larger farms can have 600 or more does. The goats are owned by many farmers. Some of the big farms breed via artificial insemination with fresh semen. Most of the goats are disbudded.
Almost all of the dairy goats are Saanen. A few are crosses with a local breed that also has strong Saanen influence. There are no colored breeds of dairy goats in China. The genetics are European and in need of replenishing. Currently, there is no breed registry for Saanens or national performance record keeping program analogous to the U.S.'s DHIA or NSIP programs.
On small farms, the goats are kept near the homestead. On large farms, the goats are kept in confinement: brick buildings with concrete or brick floors. The goats are fed in fence line feeders and have an outside loafing area. No bedding is used. On the large farms, corn silage or green chop is fed, along with some hay and grain. Small farmers feed mostly the corn plant and grain, if they can afford it. Purina seems to have cornered the market for livestock feeds, at least in Fuping County.
There were a few spoiled udders and some occasional hoof problems. China is not free from foot-and-mouth disease, so vaccination is mandated by the central government. Mastitis could be a bigger problem than suspected, especially on farms where the lots are not kept clean, teat dips are not used, or where goats are overcrowded. There seems to be a heavy reliance on herbal medicines for livestock. It would be good to test some of these products in the U.S.
Fuping County is a crop production area, which is why dairy goats are kept in confinement and fed harvested feeds. Corn is harvested by hand and the kernels are dried on the roads and in parking lots. Some corn is kept on the ears and hung around the farmstead for drying. The leftover fodder is fed to livestock or burned in the fields.
Kids are born mostly from December through March. Kidding rates approach 200 percent. On most of the dairy goat farms, the kids remain with their dams for about a month. When they're a month old, they'll weigh about 10 kg (22 lbs.) and those not being kept for breeding will be sold.
Goat milking station
Most of the goats, regardless of farm or herd size, are milked by hand. The milk is collected into a bucket, strained into another container, then cooled in a vat of cold water. It is transported to the processing plant in containers. Most of the milk is made into powdered milk, some of which is exported to other Asian countries.
If a doe is treated with a drug, her milk is segrated. The milk processing company purchases the tainted milk and discards it. Apparently, the companies are reluctant to refuse to purchase milk from farmers. There is an educational need to explain to farmers why milk that contains antibiotic residues cannot enter the food chain. There is also a need to teach farmers to wash the udders of the goats prior to milking and to use teat-dips after milking. Some do, but it is not a routine practice on small farms.
Within five years, most of the goats in China will probably be machine milked at milking stations built by the milk processing plants, government, or with financial assistance from the World Bank. A farmer will be able to take his or her goats to a milking station in their local village where the goats will be milked by a trained milker. The authorities believe that centralized machine milking will improve the quality and safety of the milk. One milking station is considered ample for milking 500 to 600 goats.
One of the goat milk companies is experimenting with cheese production. Cheese did not seem to be a popular food ingredient in China. As in the U.S., goat products are not as popular as cow products. There is a strong need for promotion and to tout the health benefits of goat milk, cheese, and meat. Goats seem to have more cultural significance in China than they do in the United States, but cow's milk still dominates the market place. Prices are similar for goat and cow milk.