An employee at Drumlin Dairy preps a goat for milking on Jan. 28. The dairy employs 30 people, two-thirds of which are female.
An employee at Drumlin Dairy preps a goat for milking on Jan. 28. The dairy employs 30 people, two-thirds of which are female. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

    CHILTON, Wis. – Fulfilling a niche in the dairy marketplace was the driving factor in the creation of Drumlin Dairy. A demand for more goat milk in the area spurred the development of the lakeside farm near Chilton. The home of 8,000 milking goats, the majority of the farm’s Grade A milk is shipped to Montchevre to make cheeses like crottin, cabrie and bucheron.

    “Goats do really well on this scale,” said Kevin Wellejus, general manager of Drumlin Dairy. “As the demand for goat products continues to climb, I think we will see more farms of this size.”
    The owners of Drumlin have been around the dairy industry for many years, operating two 3,700-cow dairies in nearby Hilbert. Drumlin Dairy is a division of Holsum Dairies, which consist of Holsum Irish and Holsum Elm. Adding a third operation to milk goats, these dairymen responded to a request to produce another type of milk as well.
    “We were approached by some processors that were looking for more goat milk,” said Wellejus, a partner with Holsum Dairies. “A fair amount of goat cheese in the U.S. is made from curd imported from overseas. You get better quality cheese if you make it fresh, which is what these processors wanted to do. All of our milk is used for cheese production.”
    A veterinarian by trade, Wellejus was raised in a Pennsylvania farming community. Even though he did not call a farm his home, he grew up working on farms and developed a love for the dairy industry. He practiced veterinary medicine for seven years in western New York and northwest Pennsylvania, serving mostly dairy cow clients. In 2013, Wellejus moved to Wisconsin and became a manager at Holsum Dairies. Now managing Drumlin Dairy full time, Wellejus has shifted from cows to goats.
    “There is some overlap in how cow and goat dairies operate, but overall, they are fairly different,” Wellejus said. “One of the Holsum partners has a connection with a large goat dairy in the U.K., and we spent a couple weeks in Europe learning about the industry. We also worked with overseas goat consultants and hired people from overseas when we started.”
    Plans for Drumlin Dairy began in 2016, and by the summer of 2017, the dairy milked its first goats. Purchasing kids over a 1.5-year timeframe, the owners of the dairy bought 7,000 goats to start and grew from there.
    “We bought kids from all over the U.S.,” Wellejus said. “We got a lot from the west coast, as well as New England and Texas.”
    The majority of the herd are Saanen and Alpine which Wellejus said are higher-producing breeds that milk longer lactations. Nubians and LaManchas can also be found on the dairy. Wellejus said some of the farm’s goats milk for a standard five-month lactation, while others are still going strong since day one, milking 3.5 years straight. The dairy’s goal is to breed one-half to one-third of the herd each year. One-third of the goats are bred via artificial insemination while the rest are bred to bucks kept onsite.
    Goats are milked twice a day in a 120-stall Blom rotary parlor from Holland. The parlor milks 1,000 goats per hour, and goats ride for a six-minute rotation.
    “We’re set up to milk three times a day, but the goats aren’t quite there yet,” Wellejus said.
    Goats are housed in a Dutch-style cross-ventilated barn featuring long lanes of deep-bedded packs designed for ever animal to eat at once. The main barn houses 10,000 goats in nine large pens and a total of 18 lanes.
    “There are a lot of different ways to manage goats,” Wellejus said. “Some farmers feed them just like cows, while others feed all grain. You have to decide what’s right for your facility. Our goats’ diet consists of dry hay and pellets. We also bed the goats daily. Goats are sensitive to wet and must be kept clean and dry, otherwise they suffer from skin and foot problems.”
    Approximately 800 goats are born every month at Drumlin Dairy. The number of goats born daily can vary dramatically, creating challenging labor swings. The dairy currently employs 30 people, and two-thirds of the staff is female. Kid raising consumes half of the farm’s labor. The dairy keeps all its does but sells the bucks at 1 week old.
    “We like to get the bucks started before we sell them,” Wellejus said.  
    After birth, newborns are transferred to a processing room where they receive colostrum, vaccines and ID tags, and spend about 12 hours drying off. Heat lamps and a heated floor keep baby goats warm and comfortable. From here, kids move next door to the training room for their first 5 to 6 days of life. Housed in small groups, the babies are trained on nipples and acclimated to drinking milk replacer through an automated free-choice feeder before moving onto the kid barn. The temperature-controlled training room is set between 65 and 70 degrees.
    “Kids are fairly needy at this age, so we have one to two full-time employees in the training room at all times,” Wellejus said. “We place the kids in small pens because it provides a better visual. We feed milk twice a day and clean the room every six hours. Kids are rather labor intensive and sensitive to getting sick.”
    Because many goat dairies are seasonal, Wellejus said milk prices fluctuate drastically by season. When more milk is available in late spring and early summer, the dairy receives a lower price for its milk. Whereas late fall and early winter bring the highest prices.
    Drumlin Dairy is devoted to supplying high-quality goat milk year-round. The operation, in its fourth year, is making its mark in the industry, providing milk to make specialty products for people who love the unique taste of goat cheese.