HOUSTON, Minn. — Dairy goats are woven into the fabric of 16-year-old William Carlson’s life, whether it is doing chores at midnight after a basketball game or singing the goats an opera piece he is preparing.
Carlson manages a herd of 20 dairy goats on his family’s farm near Houston. His parents, Bob and Mimi, have given him full control of the herd, from making breeding decisions to the buying and selling.
“It’s different from a lot of other farms,” Carlson said. “I may not be the most educated on genetics, but ... I get to learn a lot more because I make ... all the decisions.”
For Carlson, his favorite part of having goats is the group of people involved.
“You’re a part of such a tight community,” Carlson said. “You say you have dairy goats, and somebody else has dairy goats, and you’re automatically ... part of a community.”
Members of this community have become mentors for Carlson. Marge Kitchen and Karyl Dronen, who are members of the Minnesota Goat Ladies, live 10 minutes away from Carlson.
Some of the happiest memories, Carlson said, come from the funny things that happen together with Kitchen and Dronen. Both women are senior citizens, so when he goes to shows with them, he does the loading, driving them and their truck to the show and unloading again once there.
Carlson goes to about eight shows and fairs each year. His favorite show is the Bluff Country Dairy Goat Show in Caledonia. Carlson and his family help with the show.
Carlson obtained his first milk goat in 2015 at 8 years old. His dad had closed on a house with the Thompson family of Kara-Kahl Farm who have dairy goats, and as a part of the closing costs, he received a goat.
By 2022, Carlson’s herd rose to 40 before he ramped down numbers this year.
Carlson finds peace in working with his goat herd.
“I come home to my goats and do chores — and it kind of just makes the day better,” Carlson said. “You get in that rhythm of doing chores every night, and it’s kind of soothing. ... You walk out from the barn and it’s silent, and the goats are just eating and everybody’s happy. ... It’s a hard feeling to explain, but it just makes you happy.”
One of Carlson’s best memories with the goats, he said, started when a goat went missing. He looked for it for 15 minutes in the dark. Eventually, he searched a place where the family had parked a 1970s convertible that needed repairs.
“I look over and all I see is a goat head sticking out of the canvas roof,” Carlson said.
Carlson has registered and recorded grade goats with a mix of Toggenburg and Alpines. For breeding, he usually buys a buck from the Thompsons, who bring in varied genetics. Any doe that needs to be bred to Alpine is sent to the Thompsons. Carlson’s current buck is a Toggenburg.
Carlson breeds for dairy strength, level toplines and wide rumps.
The does kid in March and April to be ready for the show season. In the summer, Carlson decides which lactating does he wants for the show ring, and the rest are dried off.
Generally, he milks four to five does throughout the summer until he dries them off after showing at the Minnesota State Fair and before school begins. Carlson milks the does by hand on a stand.
Some of the most important management practices for Carlson are fecal checks as well as using the FAMACHA system to check on eyelids for the level of barber’s pole worms.
“Worms are the most important thing that you need to take care of,” Carlson said. “They will just tear your herd apart. They’re terrible.”
Besides managing goats, Carlson is also active in extracurriculars at school. He is part of robotics, basketball, choir, band, knowledge bowl, musical theater and the Honors Choirs of Southeast Minnesota.
Carlson is a member of 4-H and is a Minnesota 4-H agriculture ambassador. Through all these activities, Carlson finds time to be the primary caretaker of the herd.
Carlson is a junior in high school. When he goes to college, he will either sell the goat herd or his parents will downsize the herd and have one of his younger siblings take care of it.
To stay involved in the dairy goat industry during college, Carlson hopes to become an American Dairy Goat Association judge for shows.
After college, Carlson hopes to eventually have a farm and raise goats as a hobby.
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