From 4-H project to career

Dooley’s dairy goat operation backed by nearly 30 years of experience

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ORFORDVILLE, Wis. — Aaron Dooley was a senior in high school when he began his career as a dairy farmer. The year was 1995, and he was milking 30 goats on a rented farm. At the time, few in the state were milking goats on a commercial scale.

The son of a machine shop operator, Aaron is a first-generation farmer. His love for goats began as a 4-H project when he was 9 years old. Aaron’s mother, who is the Rock County goat superintendent and Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association treasurer, was his inspiration. In his youth, Aaron filled his days with showing and inherited his mom’s passion for goats.

“It was those experiences in 4-H that led me to do this,” Aaron said.

Today, Aaron and his wife, Kim, milk 500 head of Saanens, Alpines and LaManchas. O’Dools Dairy Goats is home to 800 goats. In addition, Aaron does custom wrapping and baling, and Kim also holds a full-time job.

Starting out, Aaron bought two goat herds, and for five years, he grew his herd to 120 does — the maximum number the barn would hold. The barn he rented was set up for the small dairy animal and was an important steppingstone for Aaron, who began building his own facility in 1999.

“Milking at that first facility helped me know how to set up my new facility,” Aaron said. “I learned what things I wanted to change.”

Drawing up plans for a goat barn was challenging as the type of facility the Dooleys were looking to build was unique for the time.

“There were very few new barns for commercial goat herds at the time,” Kim said. “Goats were mostly in converted cow barns.”

Getting the dimensions correct took some effort.

“Determining how much room we needed in the parlor was a challenge,” Aaron said. “I wanted to start with a cow parlor design and just shrink it down.”

Planning to milk 400 goats, Aaron built a double-10 parallel parlor. When he moved to the new setup in 2000, he was milking 150 goats. However, Aaron outgrew his parlor and in 2008 expanded it to a double-15. Ultimately, up to 620 goats were milking.

“At one point, we were the biggest goat farm in the state of Wisconsin,” Kim said.

Aaron knew it was goats he wanted to milk after working for his high school basketball coach who dairy farmed.

“I helped him with milking and feeding, and that’s when I realized I didn’t want to milk cows,” Aaron said. “Goats are easy to handle.”

The Dooleys milk twice a day and ship 3,000 pounds of milk daily to Saputo where it is made into cheese. For the last three years, Aaron has been drying off goats and now has a few weeks each year where no milking is required.

Breeding is done by bucks purchased from other states, particularly Idaho. No A.I. is used on the farm. Does freshen for the first time around 1 year of age.

“It’s satisfying to see what your breeding program produces,” Aaron said.

Kids are tube-fed artificial colostrum at birth and are on milk replacer within 24 hours. Kids are housed 10 to a pen and fed from nipple pails. They are weaned at 8 weeks.

From 2010 to 2012, the Dooleys sold large quantities of goats to other farms that were starting up.

“We do a good job with our kids, so we could almost double our milking herd each year if we wanted to,” Aaron said.

The Dooleys keep 200-250 kids annually for replacements.

“The goal is to improve milk production but with a lower quantity of goats,” Aaron said.

To do that, Aaron began feeding a complete total mixed ration in November 2023 that includes baleage, corn silage and a protein mix. Previously, goats were fed baleage, dry hay and a complete grain ration. To accommodate the new feeding method, Aaron created a drive-thru feed alley in the barn.

“We want to work smarter, not harder,” Kim said.

Goats are averaging 6-7 pounds of milk per day, but Aaron is hoping to bump that number up to 9-10 pounds by switching to a TMR.

“I know of a couple other farms on this exact same ration, and they are doing well,” he said.

The Dooleys farm 180 acres, raising all their feed except a complete mineral mix.

The Dooleys like to share the benefits of goat milk through products they make on the farm. Soap making is something Kim has done from the start. She also makes lotion, dog shampoo and lip balm. The products are sold at a farmers market every Saturday from May through October.

The soap comes in 26 scents, from lavender and tea tree to their best seller of oatmeal, milk and honey. Soap is made year-round at a rate of about 420 bars per week. At times, Kim has more than 2,000 bars of soap drying.

“I have a lot of customers, and we sell a ton of soap,” Kim said. “I like to educate people about goat milk and how good it is for your body.”

When one of their sons had acid reflux as a child, the Dooleys fed him pasteurized goat milk, and within four days, they noticed an improvement unlike anything else that had been prescribed to him. They continued to raise him on the milk even after the reflux subsided.

“Goat milk is amazing,” Kim said.

As Aaron took a childhood love and transformed it into his livelihood, he grew his goat knowledge day by day. Helping pioneer the path of Wisconsin’s dairy goat industry, Aaron’s long history has made him a valuable resource to other farmers.

“He’s so smart about goats,” Kim said. “Older farmers call him for advice.”

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