April 11, 2022 at 5:27 p.m.
Brent Brattlie and his wife, Jennifer, and their kids – Grace, 16, Wyatt, 15, and Landon, 13 – milk 150 goats near Marshall. Brattlie grew up with goats, and when he was laid off from his job as an electrician in 2011, he began farming full-time. He and his family milked 300 goats until 2018 when Brattlie landed his dream job as a maintenance electrician at GE Healthcare.
“I knew I would miss the goats, but we had to say goodbye when this new opportunity came along,” Brattlie said.
But Brattlie would not stay away from goats for long.
The farmer in him could not be snuffed out, and in 2020 after a family vote, the Brattlies bought another herd and moved to a different farm next to Brattlie’s brother, Nick. The farm was once home to cows, and Brattlie converted the old dairy barn into housing for goats, which also included redoing the roof and adding curtains.
Brattlie’s favorite feature is indoor feeding.
“This farm is a better setup for us,” Brattlie said. “We can feed inside instead of outside like we did at our old place.”
Previously, goats were housed in a stanchion barn and fed outdoors, but if it stormed or rained, the goats would not venture outside to eat. Brattlie said feeding hay is easier now as they can roll the hay down in the barn for adult goats – feeding canary grass to those who are dry and slices of alfalfa to the milking goats. Automatic feeders are used for feeding lactating goats a textured feed mix of corn, oat and roasted soybean. Milking goats receive a 35%-40% moisture baleage diet focused on high protein.
“I buy all of my feed,” Brattlie said. “It’s easier that way.”
Hay is introduced to goats at 3 months old in the form of canary grass.
“They don’t get any alfalfa when they’re that young because it’s too rough on their stomach,” Brattlie said.
Because of their busy lifestyle, the Brattlies decided to milk fewer goats this time around. Jennifer owns a daycare, and in addition to his full-time job off the farm, Brattlie also cash crops 1,000 acres with his brother and raises 25 beef cattle. Grace, Wyatt and Landon are involved in 4-H and show goats at the Stoughton Fair and the Dane County Fair in the summer, and the kids’ sports schedules keep the family occupied as well.
Named after the Brattlies’ children, GWL Dairy is home to Saanens and a few LaManchas, which is Grace’s favorite breed, as well as Alpines crossed with LaMancha. A goat named Blue Moon is the oldest on the farm at 13 years and is a member of the original herd.
“If it was up to me, all of our goats would be white,” Brattlie said. “But the LaMancha is a good dual breed for milk and meat.”
The Brattlies milk twice a day in a double-15 parlor that came with the herd. Goats are milked at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and their milk is shipped to Montchevre. Brattlie’s children help milk before school each morning, while Brattlie and his wife milk at night.
“We let the kids sleep in on the weekends,” Brattlie said. “They have a strong work ethic because of the goats. Having a job on the farm allows them to earn money for the things they want.”
All goats are dried up at the end of January or beginning of February, allowing the Brattlies to take two months off of milking.
“We didn’t do that before, but that was part of the deal of getting back into goats,” Brattlie said.
Goats are bred naturally, and the Brattlies are in the busiest part of their kidding season now.
“We changed our breeding schedule the second time around,” Brattlie said. “We used to kid in February, but now it’s more toward the end of March or early April. Kidding during warmer weather works nice with my job. Somatic cell count catches up with you when so many goats kid at once, and we might take a little hit on milk as we get into hot weather. But, we milk through the high season and get $50 a hundredweight, so it’s nice having all the goats on the same schedule.”
The Brattlies faced a major blow in 2017 at their first farm when a fire took down the corn crib filled with the family’s baby goats, causing them to lose about 100 of their youngest. A heat lamp fell down and started the crib on fire in the middle of the night. It was kidding season, and amid the loss of life, more babies were born.
“It could’ve been much worse,” Brattlie said.
The family now raises 40 kids for replacements and sells the rest to others.
“We used to raise all babies including buck kids for meat, but it’s too much work with my off-farm job,” Brattlie said.
Kid pens are made out of plastic pallets which Brattlie said are easy to clean. Newborns stay in a heated room for one week where they are fed by hand and receive one-on-one care. If being raised as replacements, they are dehorned within a couple days.
“We used to feed babies by machine, but now we feed by hand to control what they eat,” Brattlie said.
Milking half as many goats as before, Brattlie finds the new herd manageable alongside his career as an electrician.
“Some days are long days,” Brattlie said. “I wish I didn’t need an off-farm job, but I have to supplement. I set my own hours, so it works out well.”