GLENWOOD, Minn. – Some Minnesotans want to milk dairy goats, but a lack of markets almost made that impossible.
In 2008, a group of Minnesota dairy goat producers were given a contract from Woolwich Dairy Inc., who built a new plant that year in Lancaster, Wisconsin.
The Minnesota producers had been selling as much as 100,000 pounds of goat milk per week to Woolwich, with a value of $32,000-$36,000.
But the Orangeville, Ontario-based company decided in January 2010 to not renew that contract with 18 Minnesota goat producers.
Beginning in July of last year, the dairy goat producers didn’t have a market.
In February 2011, though, eight dairy goat producers began shipping goats’ milk to Montchevre of Belmont, Wis., about 24 miles from Lancaster.
As part of the agreement, the goat producers have formed the Minnesota Goat Milk, LLC.
The Limited Liability Corporation is responsible for all expenses from trucking to lab testing fees, according to Missy Isder. Isder is president of Minnesota Goat Milk, and milks about 150 does at her parent's dairy farm near Little Falls.
A dairy goat produces about 1,400 pounds of milk annually. The farm gate milk price is about $35 per hundredweight depending on the season – and dairy goat producers feel they can make a living from earning a gross payment of about $500 in milk sales per doe annually – plus the income from twin kids.
The Minnesota Goat Milk route is now running every four days.
“There is a list of producers that want to join Minnesota Goat Milk,” said Chad Wiener, of El Rosa, Minn.
“We want to add members as we see fit. We can’t add on too many members so the truck is full, and then there isn’t room for our milk. It would be wonderful if we could add enough members to run a truck everyday,” he said. “That’s something we could shoot for three, four, five years down the road.”
In addition to dairy goats, Chad and Cheryl Wiener have a dairy cow operation. At times, the dairy goats have been more profitable than the dairy cows.
“Right now, we’re sitting at $17 per hundredweight with the cow milk, but six months from now, it could be back to $10 per hundredweight. Even though the futures aren’t suggesting that, one never knows,” said Chad. “The goat milk, they give us the prices throughout the months. It’s all planned out for the whole year. You know what you’re going to get, so there is a sense of security with goat milk production.”
Grace Olson grew up on a dairy farm near Belgrade, and has always loved farming. She started learning about dairy goats while working at Menards, and after the facility she worked at began issuing layoffs, she wondered if she’d be able to make a living milking goats.
Grace was let go, and she used her unemployment benefits and profit sharing money to begin the development of her own dairy goat herd.
She and her fiancé, Bryan Holtkamp, began calling dairy goat farmers and marketing organizations to learn how to get into the business. She purchased more than 15 French Alpine milking goat bottle lambs in 2009 from the Weiners.
In 2009, they had talked with an official at Woolwich, who told them they needed to purchase a Minnesota herd of goats that were already supplying milk for the company.
Grace was very close to purchasing 140 does plus two Billy goats and some dairy goat equipment from a farmer near Clarissa early in 2010.
Before the deal went through, though, they all learned that Woolwich would stop sending a milk truck to Minnesota in July 2010.
She immediately decided not to purchase the larger herd.
Grace, Bryan, their family and neighbors had worked together to build her dairy goat barn.
She had purchased a 1941 round-roofed barn for $300 from a couple who lived near Glenwood. The barn was in poor shape, and neither Grace nor Bryan wanted to see the unique structure fall down.
Friends and family helped Bryan and Grace level a building site, install in-floor heating, and lay a concrete floor late in 2009. They built a foundation using blocks Bryan had collected over the years from torn down buildings.
The couple had just a couple weeks worth of work left on the goat barn, when they received word that Woolwich would no longer purchase goats milk from Minnesota.
“My heart was broken,” said Grace. “Everything remains at a stand still.”
After her unemployment benefits ran out and with the dairy goat business in limbo, Grace was hired by the Glenwood Hospital.
She is now waiting to see how the milking goat industry develops in Minnesota. If the industry can move forward, she would still like to get into the business.
She has already invested in feeders, milkers, the pipeline and a bulk tank.
The lack of Minnesota marketing opportunities is the most surprising part of goat milk production for Bryan. He has spent hours talking to goat milk creameries, manufacturers, merchandisers and distributors. He’s been told that goat cheese demand is greater than the available supply. Goat milk formula is not readily available in the United States either.
“Goat milk production is proven,” said Bryan. “It’s not a new industry. It’s an existing industry. I am hoping Commissioner Dave Frederickson will consider learning more about it, and finding a way to help us.”