Natalie Schueller exhibits a dairy goat in the 4-H dairy goat show at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. 
Natalie Schueller exhibits a dairy goat in the 4-H dairy goat show at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. PHOTO SUBMITTED
COLFAX, Wis. – For Jason Benson, operating a goat dairy is a way he can continue with his family’s heritage of dairy farming and production agriculture. And, being a dairyman was a way to follow that dream while procuring off-farm employment as a maintenance worker for the city of Menomonie.
“I grew up here with my family, milking cows,” Jason said. “When I was a kid, I was at a conference and someone told me that dairy goats were the future. That always kind of stuck in my head.”
Fate intervened on Benson’s behalf; he was asked to raise youngstock for a nearby dairy goat farmer whose facilities were overcrowded. For his efforts, Benson was able to procure some goats that became the foundation of his current herd.
This year marks Jason’s seventh season of milking dairy goats. Jason and his wife, Heidi, who works as a 4-H program educator in Chippewa County, are developing the best herd they can while sharing their passion with interested youth.
Today, the Bensons are milking 160 goats in a double-15 parlor on the Chippewa County farm near Colfax that Jason grew up on. They ship their milk to LaClare Creamery in Malone.
The Bensons had meshed milking and caring for their goats with their full-time jobs until earlier this summer. An unexpected shift occurred in Jason’s work schedule that interfered with caring for the goats.
“I wasn’t really sure what exactly we were going to do,” Jason said. “It was going to be really difficult to keep the goat herd going with my new work schedule.”
Not to be deterred, Heidi enlisted neighbors and 4-H members who had expressed interest in the dairy goat project.
“The first night, I called my nephew and enlisted him to come milk and do chores,” Jason said. “He got here and said there were all sorts of blonde girls running around doing everything and there was nothing for him to do.”
Those blonde girls had been enlisted by Heidi to help. They were Teryn Close, a junior; Natalie Schueller, a senior; Emily Kragness, a junior; and Shianne Hunt, an eighth grader.
“Emily and Shianne are neighbors and go to our church, and Natalie and Teryn are 4-H members,” Heidi said. “They had all expressed an interest in the dairy goat project, and we are happy to be able to work with them on that. The dairy goat project here in Chippewa County is very small. Not everyone has access to the animals or the ability to house them. Our goal is to help with that.”
Heidi planned for each 4-H’er to put in eight hours of farm work and an additional eight hours working with the goats they would exhibit at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair in Chippewa Falls.
For the four students, those eight hours grew into something much deeper, a fondness for dairy goats.
“I really like working with the goats, and helping out here has been so much fun,” Schueller said. “And, we have really become just one big, happy family.”
The three older girls help handle evening milking and doe chores, while Hunt oversees the kids. The girls typically arrive around 5 p.m. to begin chores by setting up the parlor.
“We move the milkers from the sanitizing station to the parlor, and then we bring the girls into the holding pen,” Close said. “Natalie and I each milk run one side of the parlor. When one shift is done, we send them out, restock feed and bring in the next shift and do it all again.”
Kragness is typically in charge of cleaning up the parlor and milkhouse after milking is completed.
“Sometimes it is a good anger management class,” Kragness said. “Sometimes the goats don’t do what you want them to do, and you just have to smile and keep trying. You can’t get angry with them.”
Schueller agreed.
“We have what we call some teachable moments with the fresh ones,” Natalie said. “The most important part is that we are having fun while we are working.”
When Hunt arrives at the farm, she pasteurizes milk to feed the kids, which takes about an hour. During that time, she feeds and waters the kids and feeds milk after the pasteurization is complete.
“Right now, I have 15 on milk and have had as many as 30,” Hunt said. “I wean them when they reach 25 pounds.”
With the effort the four invested into the farm, they teamed up to take 13 goats to the fair earlier this summer.
“We put in some long nights right before fair, doing a lot of clipping, but we had some dance parties doing it and just had a lot of fun,” Close said. “It was all worth it.”
Each show goat was clipped and had its feet trimmed; however, unlike cattle, goats are not washed before the show.
“The best part of getting involved with the 4-H dairy goat project is we have a whole new community of people to work with,” Kragness said. “We each have new friends we might not have met otherwise.”
For the Bensons, the rewards of working with the girls have been multi-faceted. In addition to growing the 4-H dairy goat project in Chippewa Falls, the Bensons are working to breed goats they can send to the Wisconsin State Fair for the 4-H’ers to exhibit .
“It has been great to be able to rely on these kids,” Jason said. “We can trust they will be here when they are scheduled to be here, and they do a great job. We know things get done right, and they care. I’m not sure where we would be without these girls.”