Sunday, March 4, 2012

Amish Goat Farm Visit

CLICK the sketch to see FULL SIZE

Another bank holiday, another farm visit! This Presidents Day I was visiting the farm of an Amish farmer who had received a USDA loan to start milking goats and selling the milk to the MontChevre  cheese factory in Berlin Wisconsin (the company is based out of California). My Uncle  happens to be the loan officer, and he had heard that the milk truck had just started to come to the farm, so we set up to go take a look.

It is so funny to think, on our way to the farm, we were discussing Twitter and Bing and iPads and so on (my aunt, who is retired from the University system, knows about all of these things and we were discussing the different reasons for using them.) At the farm, we found ourselves discussing wood stoves used for heating the milk parlor, running cold water around a metal jacket over one portion of the stove to create hot water, and a cistern on the hill that created a gravity-fed water system so that a spray hose could be used for washing the milk house. From inside the grid, to completely off it, in about 15 minutes.

Now, this was an Amish farm, and so I chose not to take any photos. However, I have provided a sketch of the goat barn (see above). I also transcribed my notes on the drive home and, in leiu of a notepad, used a number of paper tags my Uncle had in his truck to track my thoughts.

One of my "note tags" 

The farmer was very accommodating on this mucky winter’s day. He seemed a little overwhelmed by having 150 baby goats to contend with (there was indoor and outdoor pens housing the babies). Also, he had just started milking – they had had only one milk pickup, the second one happened while we were visiting. His family does the milking (mostly his children I believe). He showed us the milking stands - 10 or 14 stands. One that held about 8-10 goats was long and had a neck lock section that could be closed to hold the goats. He really liked this as opposed to the stationary neck holder. Some of his goats had horns, others did not. The long section was for most of the goats, whereas the smaller 2-4 goat stands were for goats that took an extra long time to milk by hand (due to the makeup of their udder, their age etc.)  

Behind the milk parlor was the milk barn, made up of a hoop house that was open at one end. On right side he had his milking goats, and on the other, he had the dry goats.  He has some Billy goats (bucks) on site in a separate barn. One of them is his “$300 Billy goat” whose mother was known for being a very good milker.

He has 100 dry goats. He hopes to breed some of them in a rotation so that he will always be milking. Since he is selling liquid milk, there is a premium for it paid in winter (since, in the natural scheme of things, this is when goats dry up.) We chatted about how long a goat is expected to be in the milk production system (only about 3- 4 years actually, which surprised me a bit. Goats can live 15-20 years. On another website I found information that a goat can be bred before age 1 year, and “retired” at around age 10 and still live to old age. ) He said that the two most important things in getting milking goats are looking at their bloodlines, and providing them with the best food possible. He wished he had been able to have his barn a little wider, as then he would have two troughs for food (he currently has one that both sides of the barn eat out of.) That way, he could feed the more nutrient dense food to the milkers.  He really liked the airiness and light of his hoop barn though.

Some other things taken into account when setting up the farm were how many people could milk for how long. Due to his family, his farm can have 10 people milking goats for approx. 10 years before the children are old enough to grow up and leave to go out on their own.  The goats sold for meat went for about $1.35 / lb. The hoop house cost about $10,000. Once again, the Great God Hay came up in that it is hard to create good milking quality hay in Wisconsin. Much of it is “western hay” which comes from Nebraska.

A skid-steer is sort of a Bobcat type vehicle that can  run through the barn and cleans up the manure. In winter, the barn is a little hard to clean out, and a lot of work to do by hand with pitchforks. There was some discussion about bringing in pigs – if you poke holes in the packed down manure and put corn in the holes, then let pigs root around in it, it will loosen and fluff up the material so that it can be more easily dug out. 

Currently, it takesabout 1.5 hours to milk 75 goats by hand. He is currently getting a good winter milk price of about $37 per 100 weight (here is some historic info on goat milk prices in WI). Eventually he’ll be getting about $750/ ton. In other words, making about $100 / day at peek production (which was figured to be no less than 5 lbs of milk per goat per day. He already has one goat that gives nearly 20 pounds of milk!) Out of that $100, about $75 goes towards feeding the goats. His setup has the goats housed in a hoop house and not on pasture. All hay and other feed needs to be bought, brought in, and fed. 

 As the milk truck driver was lamenting the fact that his route keeps changing now that all the goats are starting to “freshen” (i.e. give birth and start to be milked), he also said he has to work long hours in hopes of not falling behind. “No rest for the wicked,” quipped my aunt. To which the farmer responded, “ya, not too much rest for us good guys neither!”

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