By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
In addition to their full-time jobs off their farm, Mark and Cathy Hebig raise goats because of the high nutritional benefits of goat milk.
Currently they milk 72 goats, which takes about two hours from start to finish. This includes everything from preparing to milk to feeding the babies afterward.
This spring, the Hebigs saw 70 baby goats born at their place near Sobieski, most of them in February.
“Most of the 40 boys have been sold and we have 30 girls,” Mark said. “There are some younger boys that were born later that we will raise to 50 pounds before selling.”
Older goats average two or three babies each time they kid, whereas younger goats — yearlings — generally only have one kid.
They try to get a new buck for breeding every year, one with a good pedigree behind him.
“We buy them from people who show goats, with a more intense breeding program,” said Mark.
A buck is kept until his kids are ready to breed, and then another buck is introduced.
Each of the Hebig goats gives an average of five pounds of milk a day. The family drinks some of the milk themselves, and the rest goes to Stickney Hill Dairy in Kimball.
As a Stickney Hill farm, the Hebig’s facility is Certified Humane, meeting the Humane Farm Animal Care program standards.
“Goat milk is naturally homogenized,” Mark said. “That makes it hard to separate to make butter. You can freeze the milk, and it won’t separate.”
The Hebigs point out that people who are lactose-intolerant can sometimes use goat milk.
“There is more fat in goat milk, but it is easier to digest,” said Cathy.
Their goats are milked for an average of five to seven years, and are then sold as cull goats.
The Hebigs have goat meat ground into hamburger that is combined with pork to make a mixture that is 85 percent goat and 15 percent pork.
Mark was raised on a dairy farm in southern Minnesota, while Cathy grew up on a dairy farm close to Sobieski.
They started raising goats because it was more feasible for them than dairy cattle.
“It was easier to get into; we didn’t need as much capital,” Mark said. “There is not as much overhead.”
But it was not as easy to sell the milk, at first.
“We had to dump the milk by feeding it to the pigs for about six months, because Stickney Hill was full,” she said. “We also make our own mozzarella cheese and ice cream.”
The first milk went out in October 2007.
At first, the goats were milked in the attached garage, one goat at a time. Now there is a milkhouse with a large milk tank and milking apparatus.
“It can be challenging trying to teach the goats how to get up on the milking stand,” Mark said.
Nutrition can be a challenge, but the Hebigs work with Kulus Feed Store in Flensburg, where they buy Purina feed.
“There aren’t that many people who know about raising goats,” said Mark. “Bob at Kulus is interested in the goats and finds different things for us to try.”
“They’re good people to work with,” said Bob Kokett, “always trying to improve their operation.”
The goats have attracted some unique customers. In summer 2012, six men from Kenya who live in the Twin Cities drove up and butchered six goats at the farm.
“They found out about us from a friend of ours who is in nursing school with two or three of them,” Mark said.
“They ate a piece of the liver raw before they left,” he said. “It didn’t make them sick, so they took the meat home.”
The Hebigs have three children: Adam, 19, who farms with his uncle, Peter Fussy, near Little Falls; Renee, a junior at Upsala High School and an active member of FFA; and Alice, in fifth grade.
One of the buyers of the Hebig family’s goats is Kent Williams of Long Prairie. He buys them for resale as well as for slaughter.
“I used to raise goats, but it’s easier to buy them direct from farmers,” he said.
Williams has a number of clients who purchase goat meat for special celebrations, and for some it’s a staple of their diet.
“I have had nothing but premium goats from them,” Williams said. “They do the best job by far of anyone I get goats from.”
“The goats are unique animals, not like cows,” Cathy said. “They each have their own personality and they let you know it.”