Katheryn Donnay fills up a bag of compost May 23 at her family’s farm near Kimball, Minnesota. Donnay and her siblings use the funds from the compost business for college.  
Katheryn Donnay fills up a bag of compost May 23 at her family’s farm near Kimball, Minnesota. Donnay and her siblings use the funds from the compost business for college. MAGGIE MOLITOR

KIMBALL, Minn. – Kidding season makes a busy spring for most dairy goat farmers, but for the Donnays, the beginning of gardening season adds to the springtime frenzy.

Along with milking goats, the Donnays have a small enterprise of composting goat manure and selling it as garden fertilizer. The business is completely run by Brad and Leanne Donnay’s children, Michael, 21, Katheryn, 17, and Thomas, 8.  
“Our dad put the project into our hands,” Michael said. “It is ours. However far we take it, we can take it. But it is up to us, and that is what is cool about it.”
The family milks 160 goats near Kimball. They operate an on-farm creamery where they process their milk into cheese and sell it to various restaurants and wholesalers near the Twin Cities.
“We use everything our goats produce,” Michael said. “The milk gets made into cheese, and the manure we make into compost.”
In an effort to be more sustainable, Brad started the composting business eight years ago as a way to use his goat manure.
After extensive research of how to compost manure and reaching out to the University of Minnesota Extension, Brad landed on composting the goat’s bedding pack. When the project was established, he passed it onto his kids to make money for their college fund.
The kids work together to compost, package and market their product.
The process begins by hauling the goats’ bedding pack out of the barn and bringing it to the back clearing where it is composted. The constant heating and turning of the manure piles allow for the manure to break down.
Most of the composting takes place during the warm summer months and is done by the fall.  
“You know it is ready when it looks like dirt, feels like dirt and smells like dirt,” Michael said.
The piles get covered for the winter, and in the spring, the piles are spread out to dry. When dry, the compost is put through a screener to sift out large and balled up particles.
Michael is in charge of turning the manure pile, hand shoveling the compost into the screener and screening the end product.
After screening, the compost is then dumped into the bag filler ready to get packaged.
Katheryn labels, fills and seals bags of compost. She then puts a few holes in each bag to let the air out, places them on a pallet, and the product is ready to be sold.
Thomas helps his older siblings wherever he can by filling bags and completing various tasks.
“We have learned a lot about communicating between each other,” Katheryn said. “We work to pick up where the last person leaves off.”
Working as a team is how the family is able to accomplish all of their work. The kids balance their business with work, school, sports and their chores at home on the dairy.
The humble beginnings of the side business have grown greatly since the beginning. They began selling to local friends and family and now sell their product to various garden shops and nurseries, including Woods Farmer Seed and Nursery in Waite Park, Mother Earth
Gardens in Minneapolis, Tim and Tom’s Speedy Market Inc. in St. Paul and Ertl Hardware Hank in Watkins.
This past year, the young entrepreneurs made over $5,000 in gross sales that they split among themselves to go toward their college tuition. The profit is split according to the workload each of the kids put into the project.
“It allowed us to start saving for college earlier and has helped a lot when paying tuition,” Michael said.
After his recent college graduation, Joe, the eldest son, has since moved on from his siblings’ business, and soon Charlie, the youngest Donnay sibling, will get more involved in the project.
“It is cool to see how much we have grown,” Katheryn said. “When we started, we had white woven bags, and we would take plastic scoopers to fill them. Joe would hand sew the top of the bags shut. It would take forever. Now, we see our product in the store.”
From woven white bags to plastic sealable bags, the Donnays are proud of how far they have come and attribute it to their hard work and dedication.
“Envision it,” Michael said. “Growth might not come right away, but keep working hard. With time, you get where you want to go.”