By Kerry Drager
Dairyland Peach Contributor
The dairy industry is starting to see more diversity as farmers are discovering the ease and benefits of dairy goats. Bertha resident, Darin Lenz was working off-farm when he looked into the possibility of raising goats two years ago.
“This is a 101 year old, fifth generation farm,” said Lenz. “We wanted to start something here, so we decided to milk goats.”
Their 315 acre farm had not seen dairy livestock for over 20 years. The barn had to be completely gutted and new equipment purchased. The farm currently has 200 head and 100 milking stalk. They are looking to run up to 300 head next year.
Once the decision to raise goats was set into motion, the Lenz family had to find livestock. Unfortunately, dairy goats are not yet a common farming industry in Minnesota. The genetics needed for viable milking goats was not available.
“We came across a lot of pets that are not a part of a milking herd. There are some milking herds around here, maybe about a dozen goat dairy farms. Most of their stock comes from Iowa or Wisconsin,” said Lenz.
After failing to establish a good milking herd, Lenz went to a dairy goat auction in Washington, Iowa, and purchased the start of their current stalk. Now that they have their farm established and are no longer new to goat milking, they will return to Iowa to purchase additional does and a few new bucks.
Farming dairy goats is a market that has significant income potential. Creameries are always seeking new suppliers and the demand for goat milk products is rising. “This industry is growing very fast. The creameries are short goat milk, they can’t make their orders because they need more milk,” said Lenz.
The demand for goat dairy is so high that some creameries are offering a $2,000 bonus for suppliers who can ship out 50,000 pounds of milk over what they shipped in the previous season. This bonus can be repeated twice, allowing goat dairy farmers to potentially make an additional $4,000 in bonuses this year.
Aside from the clear profit opportunities dairy goats supply, they are also easier to maintain.
“They require less space and are easier to handle. They also produce a lot for being a small animal. They have personalities and aren’t like cows. You think of them like pets and you have your favorites,” said Lenz.
The only difficulty that Lenz has faced from starting up a goat dairy industry is getting their farm ready, finding the right genetics and the fact that goats tend to be seasonal breeders. This causes a milk shortage for creameries in the winter months. Another challenge is getting the community to accept the changing dairy industry.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy when we first started,” said Lenz. “But this industry just keeps getting better. There are other people who have started to purchase goats in this area and are starting to milk.”
Demands and profit opportunities may cause a change to the dairy farmers of Minnesota. With the promise of economic growth, farms that were once set up for cattle that have laid dormant are now being reborn for dairy goat production.