Monday, January 16, 2012

Dreamfarm Organic Goat Dairy

I arrived at Dreamfarm, located just Northwest of Cross Plains Wisconsin on a chilly January morning. Diana, the farmer met me after I pulled into the icy driveway and surveyed the tidy farm. The farm is located up on a ridge: to my right was the farmhouse, which was updated by the former owner – he added a fancy kitchen and neglected to get rid of the old one. This worked out well for a farmstead business owner like Diana, who if I remember correctly uses the second kitchen for things like washing eggs from her chickens.  Also to the right was the main barn – home to the goats and barn cats - with a field that connects with the area that houses the bucks and some Jacobson sheep.  To the left was the cheese making facility (a former “game room” of the guy with the fancy kitchen), garage, machinery shed, and chicken house. Down the ridge there is a hay field and hilly, tree-filled grazing area. 

While we wait for another person who had expressed an interest in taking a tour, we chat. Diana and her (apparently handy) husband bought farm 2002. Before that she and her family (4 children) lived on 6 acres in a cabin that they build.  They still have one daughter living at home (a high school senior) and helping on the farm.

Diana tells me that she worked for Vermont Valley CSA, got a few pygmy goats and chickens while she lived on the 6 acres, and was asked if she wanted to provide some “value added” elements to the CSA shares in the way of eggs and/or goat cheese. Her family moved down the road to the farm they are currently at which has 25 total acres. Since embarking on the process, she’s gone from 12 to 24 goats and it seems like that is about the most one person can handle. She milks 4 at a time via vacuum milkers.  
We eventually start the tour without the second guest. The herd is a mixture of full blood goats and mixes. “Don’t just buy pretty goats,” Diana says. She recommends buying goats with good history and also ones that are healthy. The goats have indoor/outdoor access as much as possible. Diana also says that organic hay is hard to come by.  She and her husband grow some on their farm (although she does grumble a little about the unreliability of their haying equipment). We head into the barn, which is a very old structure, and she walks me past the pens. There are some for kids, and some for the grown goats. She has two Nigerian Dwarf goats she is trying out. They are both pregnant and there is a buck on the grounds.  Nigerian Dwarf goats are known for giving very rich milk.
We walk into the milking parlor and she shows me the way it was originally designed, with the goats coming thought a hole high off the floor, and then she explains how they hated that and how they just come through the regular door now and hop onto the milking stands.

We head on through to the milk house where a small bulk tank stands. Diana eventually explains that, at the height of the season, she could get 450 lbs of milk (average 18 pounds of milk per doe, or a little over a gallon in the a.m. and a gallon from the p.m. milking). She used to carry the milk from the milk house to the cheese making building, but now she has to load it on the back of a pickup and drives it across the driveway.
We walk out of the barn and head on over to see the bucks. The parade of does follows us.  Diana says she hasn’t had any problem with goats getting sick from eating noxious weeds  - they pretty much avoid
things that would make them sick. She does confirm that goats can be prone to parasites, and then tells me of a rotational grazing program that she is implementing with the help of an outside organization.  She said that with that sort of intense management, allowing a set number of goats on a certain size portion of land for a limited amount of time, and then rotating them so that the plot has a chance to regrow, also helps keep the goats healthier.  There are three bucks  – Ringo, a mixed Alpine, Saanen, Nubian, Tim, a full bred Nubian, and a very wooly bearded Nigerian Dwarf named Gandalf (who hung back in my photos, but I found a good one of him and his glorious mutton chops on her blog.) She is expecting 50-60 kids in March – most of her herd was bred in October (goats are very seasonal breeders) and  2-3 kids per doe is the norm.

We talk about the Midwest Organic conference which is happening in La Crosse in a month and she said she does enjoy going. She tried implementing some of the things she learned about at one seminar which involved leaving some kids with their mothers but said with her herd, it didn’t work well.  She did say there is no good place she knows of to get organic milk replacer.

She dehorns her goats, and has one goat in her herd that does have horns. “She uses them.”  Most of the unwanted kids they sell for meat, and the price they get doesn’t take into account that they are organic. They just go per lb. She has had some experience with selling to people who, for religious or ethnic reasons, want to slaughter the goat on site.

Our second guest, (whose name I can’t recall) joins us as we head over to the cheeserie, a big clean area off of one of the garages. Dreamfarm has two walk in coolers, a pasteurizer (much of the equipment came from an Alabama goat farm that was getting out of the business). The molds used to shape and make the cheese are very expensive. Diana shows how she keeps records of everything, and it sounds as if she expects inspections all the time. The other guest is not as concerned with the paper trail of organic and health safety records Diana must keep – she is getting some info on starting a goat milk and cheese coop in Guatemala. Diana and she talk for a while about the need for a constant supply of water both for the goats and for cleaning. 

Along with goats, chickens and Jacobson sheet, Dreamfarm also keeps pigs and steers – the steers, while not organic (they come from Diana’s brother’s conventional farm) are grass fed.  The pigs eat organic whey from goats. Her goats are classified organic by MOSA.

Diane processes all the cheese herself and is a licensed cheese maker (a necessity in Wisconsin.) It sounds like a very intense process. When I asked if there was any other advice she had for aspiring goat farmers, Diane suggested to just keep visiting farms, making contacts and learn as much as you can (She also shared this link to the Dairy Business Innovation Center).

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