Keith Stohr milks goats in his farm’s double-8 parallel parlor. Keith and his wife, Danelle, along with help from friends and family, did all of the work when they built their new dairy goat facility.
Keith Stohr milks goats in his farm’s double-8 parallel parlor. Keith and his wife, Danelle, along with help from friends and family, did all of the work when they built their new dairy goat facility.

MILBANK, S.D. – Although goats started for Keith and Danelle Stohr as a way to provide milk for an excess of lambs and for kids’ 4-H projects, the caprines have become more than just a hobby. 

The Stohrs are making a livelihood from milking their herd of 80 registered Toggenburgs, and selling raw milk along with soaps and lotions made from the milk. 

The Stohrs’ goat venture started with sheep. For the past 16 years, the family has kept a herd of registered Hampshire sheep. 

“One year, we ended up with a bunch of bottle lambs, so we bought a few dairy goats to provide milk for the lambs,” Keith said. “Our kids were in 4-H and decided to show some of our goats. It wasn’t long before five goats became 10, then 20.”Milking their growing herd under primitive conditions soon became too much for the Stohrs, so they moved their goats to a friend’s farm in Minnesota. The friend had a separate milk tank for the Stohrs, which enabled them to market their milk to a goat milk processor.

“We were driving 84 miles one way every day to milk our 60 goats at our friend’s farm,” Keith said. “That simply wasn’t sustainable, so we told the processor’s fieldman that we wanted to move our herd back to South Dakota. He said that this wouldn’t be a problem, that they would come to our farm and pick up our milk.”

In the fall of 2017, the Stohrs began construction on a new dairy facility. Keith and Danelle, with help from family and friends, did the work themselves, from pouring the concrete to installing the plumbing and the wiring. Jon, who is a professional welder, built a double-8 parallel milking parlor for the new barn.

“We got everything all set up and called the fieldman and told him we were ready to start sending them our goat milk,” Keith said. “The fieldman said that they couldn’t ship milk across state lines.”

Faced with the unexpected loss of their market, Danelle and Keith scrambled to find an outlet for their milk.

“We bought Holstein bull calves and raised them on goat milk,” Keith said. “We also raised a few pigs. But, we still had a lot of milk.”

In search of a use for their excess milk, Danelle began making soap and lotion.

“It took a while, but I was able to develop recipes that I liked,” Danelle said. “More importantly, other people said that they really liked our goat soaps.”

Danelle and Keith began to sell their goat milk products at local farmers markets. They also sell raw goat milk.

This different than the type of dairying Keith experience while growing up on a dairy farm near Clear Lake, South Dakota.  

“Dad started out with 50 cows and gradually expanded to 130 head,” Keith said. “By the time I was 14, I had learned how to do A.I. and was selecting our herd sires. When I was 16, I enrolled our herd in DHIA and took charge of production records.”

Keith wanted to expand their operation and replace their tie stalls with a milking parlor, but his father was reluctant.

“In 1992, I decided to go out on my own,” Keith said. “I rented a tiestall dairy south of Milbank and began to milk the 27 head that I owned.”

Keith gradually grew his herd, which included all five major breeds of dairy cattle, to more than 100 head. But he found that being a full-time dairyman made it difficult to meet people.

“I had given up on finding someone to share my life with,” Keith said. “I put it in the Lord’s hands.”

But, then Keith met Danelle on a blind date. 

“Keith and I went to a wedding dance, and he seemed nice, but I didn’t quite know what to think of him,” Danelle said. “Keith called me later, and I invited him over for supper. He brought me flowers. That was so sweet.”

The Stohrs soon decided to get married. Danelle had three children, Matt, Jon, and Alisha Peiker, from a previous relationship. Keith and Danelle later had two children of their own, Becky and Natalie.

On their dairy, an extended spell of wet weather created some overwhelming challenges for the Stohrs.

“Our dry lots became a sea of belly-deep mud,” Keith said. “I also lost my source of feed and ended up buying some moldy silage. Milk production slumped and the SCC soared. In December of 1995, we made the difficult decision to sell the herd.”

Keith began to work for area dairymen while Danelle took a job at a local hardware warehouse.

“I was working more hours than Danelle but was getting a smaller paycheck,” Keith said. “As much as I love dairying, I knew that something had to change.”

Keith eventually landed a position at the same warehouse where Danelle worked. Through it all, the Stohrs were looking for a way to get back into dairy farming.

The Stohrs have now found their way. 

Encouraged by the recent strong sales of their soaps and lotions, the Stohrs decided to quit their warehouse jobs. “It just feels right to be here at home, caring for our animals,” Keith said.

The Stohrs hope to increase the number of dairy products they have to offer. They have been consulting with

  Dr. Maristela Rovai, Extension dairy specialist at South Dakota State University, to secure a grant to allow for a farmstead cheese plant.

The Stohrs have experimented with making cheese, yogurt and ice cream.

“Maristela has been tremendously helpful,” Danelle said. “Everyone at SDSU has gone out of their way to assist us.”

Keith has been using the breeding skills he acquired as a bovine dairyman to develop the genetics of their dairy goats.

“I look for many of the same traits in our goats that I looked for in cows,” Keith said. “I like to see a big frame, open ribs, strong udder attachment and superior milk production.”

And, Danelle is proud to be able to carry on the family farming legacy. 

“This farm has been in my family for at least 90 years,” she said. “My father was born in a back room of our farmhouse in 1942. We were cleaning out the shelter belt one day when we found some rusty old milk cans. One of the cans has a brass plate that bears the name of my grandfather, Otto Angerhofer. It warms our hearts to know that we are continuing the tradition of producing milk on our farm.”