February 13, 2022 at 2:53 a.m.
“I always thought I’d milk cows, but it was just too expensive to get into. And you can’t find any land,” Marc said. “I love this because I can be home.”
Marc and his wife, Sarah, and their three children – Savannah, Mackenzie and Weston – milk 180 goats on their dairy farm in McLeod County near Glencoe.
The herd went dry in late December 2021, and the Dammanns have spent the past couple months preparing for the busiest season on their farm. Throughout February, the family plans to kid in their entire herd of goats.
During the height of kidding, the Dammanns will care for nearly 40 newborns each day.
“With the group being as big as it is now, there are times where I’ll stop for lunch and still don’t have my regular chores done because I’ve spent all morning bringing in kids,” Marc said. “For a couple weeks, it just doesn’t quit.”
“Our last check is at midnight,” she said. “Some days, we’ll be out here until almost midnight.”
As the goats are kidding, the Dammann family will bring the kids into the milkhouse in small totes to keep them warm and make sure they consume their first feeding of colostrum. Sarah cares for the kids as Marc gets the doe milked.
“It takes a lot of patience,” Sarah said.
Once the kids are thriving, they are moved to the kid room where they are placed under a heat lamp. The does are kept as replacements for the milking herd while the billies are sold within a couple days.
“We keep the does for as long as we can,” Marc said. “We had some that were 10 years old.”
“Right now, there’s a doe who’s from the original herd,” she said.
In previous years, the family has bred their herd in sections, kidding in 100 animals at a time. However, creating milking groups within the herd is more hassle.
“Goats come into heat in the fall like a deer,” Marc said. “You can’t stagger-breed them like you do with cows. You can send them into a false heat, but it works best to dry them all off at the same time and kid them in together.”
The Dammanns use Alpine and Saanen billies to develop their mixed herd of dairy goats.
In 2009, Marc and Sarah purchased their first bred goat followed by seven more soon after. As the neighbor farmer milked the small herd, Marc renovated a former hog barn into housing and a single-12 milking parlor for the goats.
“There were a lot of headaches that went with that, but by the end of the year, we got it all working,” Marc said.
The family then expanded quickly, at one point milking 250 does.
“That became way too much,” Sarah said.
Within the last three years, the Dammanns expanded their parlor to a swing-15 and reduced their herd size; both changes accommodate the family’s vision for the farm.
Now, days outside of kidding season are manageable. Marc and his daughters prepare the parlor for morning milking before the school bus arrives. By 7:30 a.m., Marc begins milking and is done within two hours. He feeds the kids and completes chores by mid-morning.
In the evening, Sarah returns from her full-time job off the farm and feeds the kids while Marc milks again.
“My favorite part is milking; it’s relaxing,” Marc said. “This lifestyle, granted is busy at times, but after we’re done kidding, there’s free time. I love that.”
While in the parlor, the milking herd is supplemented with shelled corn and a protein pellet. The herd averages 4-5 pounds of milk per goat in a lactation, although the Dammanns have milked goats that have peaked at 13 pounds.
“We can get 4-5 pounds a goat and come out OK, money-wise,” Marc said. “I figured out a long time ago that you plan for things on the low end and be surprised if it’s higher. And, you can’t look at buying someone’s herd and think that’s what yours is going to do. Look at what they’re feeding and what it costs and what you think you’re going to do.”
One of the biggest changes the family has made to improve their farm is management of the kids. Two years ago, Marc and Sarah started feeding whole milk rather than purchasing milk replacer.
“It costs us more to feed whole milk rather than replacer, but as soon as we’d put them on replacer, it became a constant battle with scours,” Marc said. “Now we’ll never go back.”
The kids are also vaccinated for pneumonia, a protocol the Dammanns implemented last year.
“Kids are weaned at 8 weeks, but they’re never surely healthy until the middle of summer,” Sarah said. “We vaccinated and that worked out really well.”
“We also finally finished a housing facility that allows the kids to be separated based on age. Otherwise, the smaller ones get bullied around,” he said. “We’re hoping this will help too.”
Milking goats has allowed the Dammanns to pursue a career in farming but in a manageable way. In addition to the herd, Marc also runs just enough land to feed the animals – 20 acres of tillable ground for oat and alfalfa as well as 35 acres of meadow hay.
And for the Dammanns, it is a career they foresee themselves a part of for a long while.
“I love doing it on a smaller scale,” Marc said. “Everything is fun; it’s awesome. You don’t get burnt out.”
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