Managing for winter milk

Goat producer panel shares ideas for success

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FENNIMORE, Wis. — Many dairy goat producers are taking advantage of the premiums offered for milk produced over the winter months. Some creameries offer as much as a $6 per hundredweight premium for milk produced during the cold, dark winter season in the Midwest. 

A producer panel gathered to share management practices on how to take advantage of such premiums Nov. 4, 2023, at the annual Goat Management Academy at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore. 

Three panelists participated in the discussion, including Shelby Cox of Almost Forever Farm, Brittany VanNatta of Rocky Bottom Acres and Wayne Greene of Tangled Rose Dairy. While each farm is unique in size, the producers agreed on the use of controlled internal drug release devices as the top management tool for producing winter milk.

VanNatta said using CIDRs not only allows her to control when the goats freshen but to also control the number of kids that are born at once.

“Both my husband and I work off the farm full time and have four young kids,” VanNatta said. “So, anything I can do to control when the babies are dropping is ideal.”

VanNatta and her husband were milking 75 goats near Belmont and dispersed their herd over the winter. When they were farming full time, they aimed to milk year-round. The use of CIDRs helped them achieve their goal.

VanNatta followed a strict protocol when using CIDRs to achieve pregnancies. She put CIDRs in for 14 days. After the CIDRs were pulled, the goats were given Lutalyse or P.G. 600, depending on what was on hand. The bucks were put in with the does the day after the CIDRs were pulled and stayed with the does for 2-4 weeks.

After the bucks were removed, VanNatta waited 35-40 days before checking the does for pregnancy with ultrasound. Depending on the results, the does were either moved to a bred-pen or a different buck was used.

In August 2023, 26 goats were given CIDRs and 20 of them were confirmed pregnant using the CIDR protocol. Out of those that were confirmed pregnant, seven did not receive a hormone dose because VanNatta had run out. Five out of seven does were confirmed pregnant without the additional dose of hormones.

“They were kind of my control to see how well this works, and I could see if, when we use a CIDR, we have to use something else as well,” VanNatta said. “So, you don’t necessarily need to use shots, but it is a better alternative.”

Two CIDRs had fallen out on their own when VanNatta went to remove them and the does were still pregnant, so VanNatta thought they stayed in long enough to keep the does cycling with the rest of the group.

Greene said he achieves a 95%-98% conception by using CIDRs in his herd. While he thought they were expensive initially, he found them to be an economical tool when he put pencil to paper. Each unit costs a little more than $10 with the hormone shot. He figured if a doe averages 7 pounds of milk and produces 840 pounds of milk over the four-month period, with the $6 per hundredweight premium, each doe would earn an extra $50.40 over the winter.

“For my 60-doe herd, that’s going to run an extra $2,200 extra income per year, and the only extra thing I did was spend $10 for CIDRs,” Greene said. “This is the first year since we started farming in 2010 that our entire herd will milk through all winter.”

Long-day lighting was another management practice the panel agreed on, and Cox and VanNatta both use the systems year-round.

The panel also found benefits to extended lactations for getting the winter premiums. Some goats among the panelists’ herds were milking as many as 2,000 days in one lactation, while the average for some was closer to 500. Cox said the Alpines were the best breed for an extended lactation.

Greene stressed the importance of nutrition in the entire herd.

“One of the big things is your bucks,” Greene said. “They’re not second-class citizens; you’ve got to take care of them accordingly or they won’t breed in the off-season. Keep them fat and keep them healthy. We give them the same grain that the milking goats get, so it’s 17% whole kernel textured feed.”

Greene keeps his bucks separated from the does so they do not come into heat before they are ready.

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