December 8, 2022 at 7:30 p.m.
A collection of farmers and industry professionals gathered Nov. 4 at the Fennimore campus for the Goat Management Academy.
A producer panel offered insight into the management practices of three dairy goat farms. Anna Thompson, Becky Mills and Lacey Johnson are all producers with different goals and circumstances.
Mills milks 60 goats near Oshkosh with her husband and son. At their peak, they milk around 120 goats.
“We’re somewhere in the middle of a full-blown commercial herd and a small show herd because we both work full time off the farm,” Mills said. “The goats pay for themselves, and that’s about what we ask of them.”
Mills and her husband began milking goats in 2009 with two pet goats. When their herd reached 40 animals, they realized they needed to either sell animals or figure out a way to produce a profit. They decided to put up a building and started shipping milk in 2014.
The family milks in a double-9 herringbone parlor with three milking units on each side. Mills said this allows them to efficiently do chores before their off-farm jobs and keep a better eye on the goats.
“We prefer the herringbone with fewer milkers because it gives us a chance to look at the whole animal and kind of analyze them,” Mills said. “Since we both work off the farm, this gives us extra time and gives us a chance to really get a good look at them.”
Feeding grain exclusively in the parlor has worked well for the Millses to incentivize the goats to come inside.
One challenge the Millses faced this year was the high cost of feed. To combat this, they kept fewer does last year than they normally would. Ideally, the Millses keep an average of 30-40 doe kids every year. When the feed prices were projected high for 2022, the family decided to cull heavily last year and also reduce the amount of breeding for kids this year.
Johnson also faced high feed prices on her 350-goat dairy near South Wayne. Johnson took over management of an existing dairy and now works in partnership with the owner at Udder Alternative Dairy. Johnson said she cut back on feed due to high costs. She focuses on feeding for production and believes hay is an important aspect of reaching that goal.
“Hay makes you money,” Johnson said. “We feed 200 relative feed value during their peak lactation. When we drop down from that, you can see it in the bulk tank.”
Johnson’s older does peak at 4,000 pounds of milk a year for production. They strive for their 2-year-old goats to reach 3,000 pounds of milk in 305 days. If that production is not reached, a culling decision is made with other circumstances in mind as well such as how many kids they have produced, their overall health throughout the year or if there were complications with kidding.
Johnson said she feels strongly that milk testing is important to the management of her dairy.
“It takes an extra hour so everybody hates testing day, but I love it,” Johnson said. “It gives you so much information.”
Johnson considers the data she receives from testing like somatic cell count, butterfat and protein when making breeding and culling decisions.
Johnson breeds for production. When picking a breeding buck, she looks at what the dam and the sire have accomplished.
“We go for bucks that have 4,000 pounds on each side,” Johnson said. “We do have a hard time finding bucks because of what we ask of them.”
Thompson’s family keeps a small herd of dairy goats not to ship milk but rather to produce breeding stock for other dairies. The Thompson family farms near Houston, Minnesota. At their peak, they milk 20 goats.
“Even though we have a small herd, we take our cues frequently from commercial producers,” Thompson said. “In our Alpine herd, we prioritize beautiful mammary systems that are also very productive.”
The Thompsons aim for a yearly average of around 3,000 pounds of milk. They utilize data from the Dairy Herd Improvement Association and have their animals linear appraised.
The Thompson family also enjoys showing goats for sheer joy of the process and also to learn and compare with other breeders. In 2018 and 2021, they bred the national champion for the Alpine and Toggenburg breeds.
The Thompsons’ goals as breeders are derived from the unified scorecard. Along with her father and sister, Thompson is a licensed judge and frequently participates in shows.
“We like to compete, and we have a vision for what we want our herd to look like,” Thompson said. “This vision really goes hand in hand with animals that can also excel in a commercial operation.”
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